Editorial: Poverty list considered wrong skyline
11/10/2013 6:00:00 AM
By Alan Choate
According to a recent study, we're poor.
"We," in this case, is the Kingman-Lake Havasu City metropolitan statistical area, which was ranked fifth on a list of poorest cities compiled by an outfit called 24/7 Wall St. They used Census data, unemployment and poverty rates and other information to come up with their list, which generated more than few headlines - but it also left out some key considerations.
Here are the numbers: For 2012, our median income was $34,445; the unemployment rate was 9.9 percent; and our poverty rate was 21.7 percent, the 44th highest out of 372 metropolitan areas measured.
Contrast that with the Boston area, which ranked as the fifth richest city in the study. The median income there was more than double ours, at $71,738, and they had low unemployment (6.1 percent) and low poverty (10.7 percent).
Those numbers omit some other factors, the most important of which is cost of living. Sure, an average Boston worker makes more than twice as much as an average Kingmanite, but he or she also has to shell out a lot more money on minor details such as a place to live. Can you find a two-bedroom place in Boston in the $500 range? They'd just laugh at you - $500 a month might get you half a room in Beantown, but you probably wouldn't have a closet or kitchen access.
Then there's quality of life. I like Boston. I've always had a good time there, they have a fantastic mass transit system and there's plenty to do whether you prefer sports, dancing, live music or fine dining. But it also takes serious effort to go somewhere that isn't paved over or fenced in, and forget about solitude, unless you're OK with staying inside or maybe wandering the streets at 3 a.m.
One gets used to seeing mountains when living out west - I've got a decent mountain view from my front door, and you probably do too - and you can't put a price on being able to get away from it all within a 10-minute drive. But there's no statistical measure for "I like the sunsets" or "Living in a big city sucks out all of your energy," so we're left with the studies that we have.
They do contain some useful information.
The richest cities have a concentration of high-skill, high-wage jobs in fields such as financial services, technology, science and research, and professional services (including architects, engineers and doctors). That's obviously not the case in our area, which is heavy with retail and tourist-related employment. Not as much skill, not as much pay. It's great that we're getting new businesses - I will be among the hordes storming our new Tractor Supply Co., for instance - but those are not the jobs that a rich economy is built upon.
Rich cities are also educated cities. Almost 43 percent of Boston's residents have a college degree. In the Washington, D.C. area (No. 2 on the rich city list), more than 48 percent of residents have at least a bachelor's degree.
Nationally, 29 percent of the population had a college degree in 2012. In our area, that figure is a dismal 11.2 percent - and that figure, according to this study, ranks us dead last in the country for educational attainment.
So there's our challenge, and our opportunity. It would be great to attract businesses that employ locals, but we may have to settle for enticing companies here who will bring an educated workforce with them. I doubt Mohave County will ever make a Top 10 richest list, and that shouldn't be the goal. We want to be a place that has a diversified, healthy economy and a high quality of life.
They'll come for the low cost of living, and stay for the sunsets and the mountains.