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Income of Outsiders and Insiders, by U.S. County

I am very fond of American Community Survey Table B06011.

I mean this seriously: visit the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Factfinder website and see for yourself.  This data table will look at just about any U.S. place you specify, then spit out the median income of four different sets of people who live in that place:

  • people who were born in the U.S. state they’re now living in,
  • people who were born in the United States, but in a different state from the one they’re living in now,
  • people who were born outside the United States, but as U.S. citizens (thanks, Mom and Dad),
  • people who were born outside the United States as citizens of other countries, but who immigrated to the United States.

Here in the United States, the phrase “well, I was born here” has special meaning.  Look at your state legislative candidates’ websites and Facebook pages and where a candidate can truthfully lay claim to life-long residence in a state, or a county, or a town, they’ll do so.  Head to a city or town meeting and you’ll hear speakers begin their statements to the governing board with a description of how long they’ve lived in that place (and sometimes how many generations back their family goes in the same spot).  There’s a special insider status given to those who can claim “born and raised” native status.  Everyone else is (to a greater or lesser degree depending on the spot) a bit of an outsider status.

I was curious to compare the economic status of home-grown insiders to outsiders in the various places around the country.  Do outsiders tend to earn more or less than the insiders?  The charts below are histograms referring to results from the most recent 2014 American Community Survey. The vertical axis indicates the number of U.S. counties, and the horizontal axis indicates the median income of those born out-of-state (or out-of-country) minus the median income of those born in the state in which they’re living.  A positive value (colored blue) indicates that out-of-staters (or out-of-country immigrants tend to earn more than those born in-state; a negative value (colored red) indicates that those born in-state tend to earn more.

Histogram of Median Income of U.S. Natives Born Out of State minus Median Income of U.S. Natives Born in State, for all U.S. counties, 2014 American Community Survey

Histogram of Median Income of Immigrants Born Outside the United States minus Median Income of U.S. Natives Born in State, for all U.S. counties, 2014 American Community Survey

What I find really interesting is the strong pattern indicating that among the American-born, those who have moved to the county they’re living in from out of state tend in most counties to earn more than those living in the county who were born in that state.  In other words, American itinerant roamers tend to have a higher economic status than the American stay-at-homers.  Does this help explain the lines of resentment that often form between natives and out of towners?

In contrast, there is a more even (if not perfectly even) distribution of counties between circumstances in which foreign-born residents earn more than, and circumstances in which foreign-born residents earn less than, those who were born in the USA and born in-state.  Looking at the x-axis, we can see that the distribution is wider, too: there are some counties where foreign-born immigrants tend to earn much less than the native in-staters, and a few counties in which foreign-born immigrants tend to earn much, much more than native in-staters.  I find myself asking whether the attitude toward foreign immigrants are might differ in these different countries, or if perhaps attitudes about immigrants are primarily cultural, not driven by economic competition.

For better or worse, the American Community Survey does not gather information on political opinions.  However, if we looked at this variable for different congressional districts, we could compare the circumstances of those districts to votes in Congress.

That sounds like a task for tomorrow.

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