WASHINGTON – Call it the migration bust: Many of the fast-growing U.S. areas during the housing boom are now yielding some of the biggest income drops in the economic downturn.
That could have broad impact on the political map in the coming weeks. Voters discontent over the economy and related issues such as immigration head to the polls on Nov. 2 to decide whether to keep Democrats in Congress.
Whites and blacks have taken big hits since 2007 in once-torrid Sunbelt regions offering warm climates and open spaces, including Florida, Colorado, Arizona and Nevada, according to 2009 census data. Hispanics suffered paycheck losses in many "new immigrant" destinations in the interior U.S., which previously offered construction jobs and affordable housing, such as Tennessee, Georgia and North Carolina.
The few bright spots: Washington, D.C., San Jose, Calif., San Francisco and Boston. Their household incomes remained among the highest in the nation last year partly due to steady demand for government and high-tech work.
"As a whole, the income changes represent a sharp U-turn from the mid-decade gains," said William H. Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Institution who reviewed the household income data. "The last two years have left those who couldn't move stuck in place with lower incomes."
In December, the Census Bureau will release 2010 population counts, which trigger a politically contentious process of divvying up House seats. In all, Southern and Western states are expected to take seats away the Midwest and Northeast. But last-minute shifts could affect a handful of states hanging in the balance, including California, which is hoping to avoid losing its first seat ever, and Arizona, which may now gain just one seat rather than two based partly on slowing Hispanic population growth.
The census data show that Hispanics, the nation's largest and fastest-growing minority group, are helping drive growth in several Southern states.
Five states have seen their numbers double over the last decade — South Carolina, Tennessee, Alabama and Arkansas in the South and South Dakota in the Upper Midwest. Other big gainers include Georgia and North Carolina.
Several of those states, South Carolina, Georgia and possibly North Carolina, stand to gain House seats based partly on that fast growth.
At the same time, the Latino population remains a relatively smaller share of the population in those states, numbering about 8 percent or less. There, they also tend to be disproportionately low-income workers who lack a high-school education, speak mostly Spanish and don't vote in elections, which analysts say may be driving some of the tensions over immigration and jobs.
In recent months, the rhetoric has ranged from a call for English-only policies in states and localities that wish to minimize the use of Spanish and other languages, to a call to strip birthright citizenship for illegal immigrants.
"Hispanics' recent growth and sharp disparity with existing white populations may have something to do with the anti-immigrant backlash now being observed in large parts of the country," Frey said.
Hispanics had the highest income in metro areas such as Washington, D.C., Baltimore, Dayton, Ohio, and Virginia Beach, where they also were more likely to have a college degree. Lower-educated Hispanics also had strong earnings in San Francisco and San Jose, Calif., two areas with high costs of living where more-affordable immigrant labor tends to be in greater demand.
Nationally, the government reported last month that median household incomes dipped to $49,777, the lowest since 1997, with the sharpest drop-offs in the Midwest and Northeast. Broken down by race, blacks had the biggest income losses, dropping to $32,584. They were followed by non-Hispanic whites, whose income fell to $54,461. Asian incomes remained flat at $65,469.
Income among Hispanics edged higher but lagged whites significantly at $38,039.
The findings are part of a broad array of 2009 data released over the past month that have highlighted the impact of the recession — from soaring poverty and a widening gap between rich and poor to record levels of food stamp use.
On Tuesday, the Census Bureau posted additional 2009 findings.
— Declining home values. Median values for owner-occupied homes dropped 5.8 percent last year to $185,200. They ranged from a high of $638,300 in San Jose, Calif., to a low of $76,100 in McAllen, Texas. In all, five of the 10 highest property values were located in California, with the rest in New York, Washington, D.C., Boston, Seattle and Baltimore.
— Increased welfare payments. About 2.6 percent of U.S. households, or 3 million, received government cash payments for the poor, up from 2.3 percent in 2008. States whose residents received the most aid were Alaska, Maine, Washington and Michigan.
— Growth of college sciences. About 36.4 percent, or 20.5 million, of college graduates in the U.S. had a degree in the science and engineering fields. Five states — California, Maryland, Massachusetts, Virginia, Washington — as well as the District of Columbia had science and engineering degrees above 40 percent.
The 2009 figures come from the Census Bureau's Current Population Survey and the American Community Survey, which gathers information from 3 million households. The surveys are separate from the 2010 census.