Wage comparisons may not come up at the proverbial water cooler, but the question can bubble below the surface.
A study of the region compared 10 counties in east central Minnesota. And the results for median household income and per capita income had four area counties lined up on the low end.
Cost of Living Consulting developed charts and comparisons of the region using 2000 Census data for the recent East Central Minnesota Business Development hosted by the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe. The counties in the study were Chisago, Isanti, Benton, Carlson, Kanabec, Pine, Crow Wing, Mille Lacs, Morrison and Aitkin.
Not surprisingly, the study found counties with high unemployment, low population density and higher median age had a lower income. And the farther a county was from a major metropolitan area, the lower the income tended to be.
Looking at trends, the study found almost 40 percent of Chisago and Isanti county households had incomes of $40,000 or more per year. On the other end of the chart, more than 45 percent of households in Aitkin County had a household income of $19,000 or less with another 20 percent between $20,000 and $30,000.
In Crow Wing, Mille Lacs and Morrison counties nearly 60 percent of households had incomes of $30,000 or less.
Area incomes from census data included:
* Crow Wing County with a median household income of $37,731 and a per capita income of $18,919. By 2007, the household income is projected to increase by $3,800 with per capita increasing by $5,400.
* Mille Lacs County -- $37,173 for median household ($39,865 by 2007) and $17,271 for per capita income ($21,847 by 2007).
* Morrison County -- $36,954 for median household ($40,128 by 2007) and $16,400 for per capita income ($20,706 by 2007).
* Aitkin County -- $31,238 for median household ($41,609 by 2007) and $17,717 for per capita income ($21,347 by 2007).
By comparison, the median household income in Chisago County was $52,317 with per capita income at $20,778 for a region high and the projections for 2007 had the household income number increasing by $19,500.
Benton County's median household income was $42,310 with a per capita income of $18,647.
Crow Wing County numbers were slightly higher than those in Duluth. St. Cloud's median household income was nearly $5,000 more than Crow Wing's, and the Minneapolis-St. Paul median household income was nearly $17,000 more. The per capita incomes were more closely aligned with $18,396 in Duluth, $25,923 in the Twin Cities and $18,871 in St. Cloud.
The Highway 10 corridor from St. Cloud to Brainerd is one of the fastest growing areas outside the Twin Cities. Projections are for continued manufacturing growth between the Twin Cities and St. Cloud and continued tourism growth in the Brainerd lakes area, said Bruce Maus, president of Corporate Real Estate.
Morrison County topped the list for highest percentage of employees whose wages were lower than market value for the region. Morrison County was listed at 41 percent for the number of employed residents earning wages below market value for their occupation. Crow Wing County had 26 percent and Mille Lacs County had 24 percent.
On the other side of the income coin is household spending. The study found Aitkin and Crow Wing counties have the least disposable income in the region while Isanti and Chisago county had the most. The study also found most counties in the East Central region spent about 60 percent of household expenditures on the basics -- shelter, food, beverage and transportation.
In evaluating the expenditures, the study found Chisago and Isanti were the only two counties in the East Central region with household expenditures less than the median household income.
And Aitkin County had household expenditures more than 135 percent of median household income. Bringing those percentages down to actual numbers, Aitkin County households making a median income of $30,000 had average expenditures of $40,000. It was the greatest disparity in the study.
A group of counties -- Crow Wing, Kanabec, Mille Lacs, Morrison and Pine -- had similar data on a number of issues, including household spending versus median incomes.
Michelle Ostrom, founder and president of Cost of Living Consulting, said on average households were spending 20 percent more than the median income.
"That's pretty alarming," Ostrom said during her presentation at the business summit.
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.