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South Carolina Income Gains: Real Or Illusory?

Good News? Maybe … maybe not …

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South Carolina’s median household income climbed by 3.6 percent in 2016 – from $47,790 to $49,501 – according to data released this month by the U.S. Census Bureau.   That’s a higher growth rate than the 2.3 percent national increase – where median household income ostensibly climbed from $56,277 to $57,617.

Good news?   Sure … assuming you buy this data.

As we noted following last year’s Census release, though … we don’t.

Last September we cited analysts at the Market Research Foundation (MRF) – who pointed out that Census bean counters have been applying “tweaked” metrics to their income calculations.

These tweaks began in 2013 but were fully phased in the following year – right around the time the numbers started moving in a positive direction.

“Beginning in 2013, Census surveys began using ‘income ranges’ as a follow-up when respondents either declined to answer questions about how much money they made (or didn’t know the answer to the question),” MRF researchers noted.  “Additionally, Census surveyors were instructed to ‘collect the value of assets that generate income if the respondent is unsure of the income generated.’”

Not surprisingly, these tweaks resulted in higher income estimates.

MRF wasn’t alone in questioning the validity of the data …

“Census moved the goal posts,” John Crudele wrote for The New York Post, adding that the agency “changed the questions and the methods in calculating household income.”

Assuming you accept the Census numbers, South Carolina’s income levels rank eleventh-worst nationally – which is a modest improvement over previous years.

Where are these income gains going, though?

As we noted earlier this week, they aren’t showing up in your pocket …

Last spring, the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute (EPI) released a report showing that from 2009-2013 South Carolina was one of fifteen states in which the top one percent of income earners captured all of the income growth over that five-year period.

Additionally, the report found South Carolina was one of only ten states in the nation in which the top one percent of earners saw incomes climb by double digits from 2009-2013 while the bottom 99 percent saw incomes fall over the same time period.

We don’t know yet if this trend continued from 2014-2016, but it’s clear the first five years of the “recovery” failed to benefit the overwhelming majority of South Carolina residents.

To be clear: We want to believe in these gains.

We would love to confidently report that South Carolina’s consumer economy is making a comeback, and that this broad-based resurgence is fueling genuine growth in jobs, incomes and investment.  Unfortunately, we know our state’s addiction to taxingborrowing and spending continues to produce substandard outcomes – economicallyfiscallyeducationally and with regards to infrastructurepublic safety and other core functions of government.

Stay tuned as we sift through this recently released income data in the hopes of bringing our readers the truth that lies beneath the surface.

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