Economic data shows mixed trends for SE Iowa


A map of average annual salaries by company in each county in Iowa, provided by the Legislative Services Agency. Based on US Bureau of Labor Statistics, Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages.

A heat map of median household income by county in Iowa in 2020. Source: US Census Bureau, Small Area Estimates Branch

A map from the Iowa Legislative Services Agency of the percentage changes in the median sale price of single-family homes from June 2021 to June 2022. Based on housing statistics from the Iowa Association of Realtors.

A map from the Iowa Legislative Services Agency of homeowners struggling with costs. Based on US Census Bureau’s 2016-2020 American Community Survey 5-year estimate.

An Iowa Legislative Services Agency map of poor families in the state, based on the US Census Bureau’s 2016-2020 American Community Survey 5-year estimate.

DES MOINES — A series of maps released by the Iowa Legislative Services Agency (LSA) over the summer show a handful of economic gaps between southeastern Iowa counties.

The trends paint a different picture for each community. While the people of Southeast Iowa share a number of economic issues — low housing stock, access to childcare, difficulties filling the workforce — the trends play out differently in the region.

Washington County has the lowest average salaries, but the highest incomes and cost of living

A map – based on results from the quarterly Census of Employment and Wages by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics – shows companies in Washington County paying the ninth-lowest wages in the state, with an annual salary average of $41,240.

This number is out of step with other indicators for the region. According to the 2020 census, Washington County ranks 27th in population (22,565 people) and median household income ($65,061). median $52,830.)

Iowa Workforce Development (IWD) public information officer Jesse Dougherty said the discrepancy between wages and incomes could be explained by people employed in other counties.

“It’s important to remember that workers are mobile,” he said. “Data shows that 62.7% of employed Washington County residents live in Washington County and travel elsewhere for work. People who commute to work in Johnson, Muscatine, and other counties receive the wages listed in those counties and report those earnings to Washington.

Washington County also has a considerably higher cost of living than its neighbors.

According to a spreadsheet by data company Lightcast and provided by IWD spokespersons, the cost of living index for Washington County is 98.1, compared to the national benchmark of 100.

At first glance, it’s squarely in the middle of the pack, ranking 49th out of the state’s 99 counties. Locally, however, it is exceptionally high. To the north, Johnson County enjoys a slightly lower COL of 97.8. Jefferson (94) and Henry (93.8) counties are among the 10 lowest indexes in the state.

All three data points make Washington County an unusual case for southeast Iowa. Within the region, only Louisa County has a higher median household income ($72,404) while none have a lower average salary or higher cost of living.

IWD communications strategist Jeff Eckhoff said the county’s outlying status was likely due to its industrial makeup, which could negatively skew the averages.

“Washington has many health care and social work occupations, typically in assisted living facilities, and this type of work typically pays less than other industries,” he said in an email. . “For example, Jefferson County has a higher concentration of high finance and insurance jobs, while Johnson County benefits from higher private education industries, and Henry County benefits from warehousing. and transportation.”

Jefferson County grapples with rapidly rising housing costs

In Jefferson County, data suggests housing is a heavier burden than most states, with 22.7% of homeowners spending more than 30% of their household income on property costs such as mortgages, property taxes, utilities and fuel. Compare that to the statewide average of 19.4%.

The trend likely extends to renters who don’t own a home, according to Shelby Harris, an economic support staffer with Sieda Community Action, who works in the group’s office in Jefferson County.

“Since COVID, housing requests here have increased dramatically, probably 25%,” she said. “These are people asking for help to pay their rent.”

Nearby Wapello and Appanoose counties have a similar problem, with 25.7% and 25% of homeowners, respectively, identified as “cost-burdened” by the LSA card.

The cause in one county may differ from its neighbors. Census data suggests lower income for Wapello and Appanoose, where a combined average of 13.7% of families are in poverty, according to census data. Jefferson County’s relatively low poverty rate of 6.9% might suggest another factor at play.

Rising housing costs are a possibility.

Jefferson County saw median home sales prices jump 33.9% from June 2021 to $22, to $195,500 for single-family properties, according to the Iowa Association of Realtors.

June Lowenberg, associate broker at Miller Realty in Fairfield, was not surprised by the trend and said similar price growth applied to all types of homes, not just single-family properties.

“I usually tell people you want to own your house for five years if you want to leave even if it sells,” she said. “After COVID, I’ve seen people make money from their house in a year. There’s not a whole community where you can buy a house, then live in it, then sell it back to the same price in five years. You basically live there for free.

Lowenberg attributed the rising cost of homes to Fairfield’s housing shortage. While other communities in southeast Iowa face the same problem, she said Fairfield’s is being amplified by a larger industrial base.

“We have some really great, strong companies that are hiring,” she said. “So when you have good employers, and you have a community that cares about things going on…it’s a desirable place.”

Home price trends vary significantly from county to county. According to the same data map, Lee County’s median sale value increased by 71%. Muscatine climbed 58.1%, Des Moines County rose 51.2%.

Lowenberg said he’s seen signs of growing interest in living in the Midwest.

“Everybody sees on social media and everything, having a chicken, having a goat, having a little hobby farm, and they want it,” she said. “I think when you look for all of that, Fairfield reveals itself.”

What’s harder to explain is why some counties around the state have falling prices. Pocahontas County is the most prominent example, with a median sale price drop of 67.2% from ’21 to ’22. Closer to home, Keokuk County saw a decline of 10.1%, Wapello of 7.1%, Van Buren of 22.5%.

Washington and Henry County both saw median prices increase in small increments of 6.1% and 1.5%, respectively.

Henry County, southeast corner, faces high poverty rates

In Henry County, the most glaring concern is the poverty rate, clocking in at 8.3% of families according to census estimates from 2016 to 2020. The trend holds true for the rest of the southeast tip of the county. Iowa: Lee County’s rate is 8.6%, Des Moines’ is 12.7%, and Van Buren’s is 8.6%. The national average is 7.1%.

The complexity of the problem makes it impossible to identify a root cause, according to Rachel Albrecht, director of community action planning for Southeast Iowa.

“There are so many different factors that contribute to it,” she said. “There are so many different things that influence him and contribute to this situation.”

The contributing factors are endless. One may be lack of work: Henry County’s unemployment rate of 4.8% (based on census estimates for the same year) is higher than the state average of 3.9.

Other common issues, according to Albrecht, include the lack of available housing and child care, the lack of mental health care facilities, and the difficulty of getting around in largely rural communities.

As for what it would take to fix the problem, Albrecht said the need for government help was still urgent.

“We are doing surveys and they need financial help,” she said. “When we ask questions like, ‘What could we do better?’ the answer is always, very frequently, “More assistance”. …there’s so much more need out there, and it’s money they need.

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