Trump Country Sees Biggest Income Dips — and Jumps

By: - December 5, 2019 12:00 am

An oil drilling rig in Midland, Texas. An oil boom gave West Texas most of the nation’s biggest increases in personal income between 2016 and 2018. James Durbin/Midland Reporter-Telegram via AP

In recent years, an oil boom has pumped up the incomes of many rural residents in Texas, even as flooding and the trade war have dragged down incomes in Nebraska farm country. Both cases are emblematic of a broader trend: The counties with the most dramatic income gains and losses since 2016 are mostly rural and Republican.

A Stateline analysis of Bureau of Economic Analysis data shows that while residents of booming big cities were most likely to have growing incomes in the three years between 2016 and 2018, rural residents had a very mixed outcome.

The numbers are yet another illustration of the urban-rural divide that characterized the 2016 election. Democratic-dominated metropolitan areas are thriving, attracting employers and highly educated and skilled workers who can earn big paychecks. Democrat Hillary Clinton won fewer than 500 of the nation’s 3,000 counties, but they accounted for nearly two-thirds of the nation’s GDP, according to an analysis by the Brookings Institution. Meanwhile, many residents of rural counties and smaller cities, most of which voted for Donald Trump, face diminished job prospects or depend on the ups and downs of energy and agriculture.

Nationally, the average personal income rose to about ,000 last year, up 4% after inflation; and the typical county saw a 3% rise, whether it was Democratic or Republican, big city or rural. But in the list of the 200 biggest winners and losers, big Democratic cities tended to be among the success stories while rural Republican areas — which comprised nearly 90% of both lists — were split evenly between winners and losers.

Counties in West Texas, which benefited from an oil boom in the Permian Basin, dominated the list of those with the largest per capita income gains in that time, according to Bureau of Economic Analysis data released in November. Only one of those counties voted Democratic: rural Reeves County.

Tops in the nation was Midland County, Texas, transformed by an oil boom that coincidentally had its biggest effect between 2016 and 2018, experts say. The county voted 75% for Trump in 2016, according to election data used in the Stateline analysis and maintained by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The average personal income in the county grew to ,455, a 57% increase, and now ranks 10th in the nation, jumping ahead of wealthy places like Santa Clara in Silicon Valley and the hedge fund hub of Fairfield, Connecticut.

Story continues after map

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Tim Henderson
Tim Henderson

Tim Henderson covers demographics for Stateline. He has been a reporter at the Miami Herald, the Cincinnati Enquirer and the Journal News.