Business

Wednesday, Apr 25 2012 05:37 PM

Kern's making more money, but still behind

BY COURTENAY EDELHART Californian staff writer cedelhart@bakersfield.com

The growth of personal income in Kern County is outpacing that of both California and the country as a whole, but Kern residents still earn far less than the per capita income of the state and nation.

That's according to new federal data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis.

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The bureau Wednesday released a Local Area Personal Income report examining money received from 2000 to 2010. The report looked at a wide array of income sources, including wages and salaries, employer-provided health insurance, dividends and interest, Social Security benefits and public assistance.

In 2010 -- the latest year for which data were available -- Kern had per capita personal income of $29,609, up 38 percent from $21,507 a decade earlier.

That figure was derived by dividing the county's total income by the number of residents using Census Bureau midyear population estimates.

Personal income in Kern rose 4.4 percent from 2009 to 2010, compared with a state jump of 2.9 percent and a national increase of 2.8 percent.

The county's total personal income in 2010 was $25 million, up from $14.3 million a decade earlier.

It would make sense that Kern didn't suffer as deeply as the rest of the state when the technology bubble burst early in the decade, said Dan Petrey, chief financial officer of Mestmaker & Petrey Wealth Advisors Inc., a local investment advisory firm.

Kern had far fewer technology jobs than, say, Los Angeles or the Silicon Valley.

But the Central Valley crashed along with everyone else during the housing crisis, and still hasn't fully rebounded from that, he said.

Despite healthy gains in the stock market, "The retail investor is still a little gunshy," Petrey said.

Kern's per capita income ranked it No. 47 in a state of 58 counties, and was 70 percent of the state average, $42,514, and 74 percent of the national average, $39,937.

The number isn't adjusted for inflation, which might help explain why, while we're bringing home more on paper, we don't feel any richer, said John Emery, dean of the School of Business and Public Administration at Cal State Bakersfield.

"Maybe you're beginning to get people who are a little more upbeat as the economy has improved in the couple of years, but our real purchasing power has really not increased over the last 10 years," he said.

High school teacher Amanda Rude, 30, said she hasn't had a raise in years and is grateful that tenure helped protect her from layoffs.

Rude is feeling a little more confident about the economy, but is still cautious about spending.

"I have to be," she said.

Adam Pedroza took a leap of faith when he quit his job to open SWAT Computer Repair Specialists five years ago, just in time for the Great Recession.

Business was "kind of up and down" at first, but profits have grown a little bit every year, and he's feeling more optimistic.

"Things seem to be getting better over time," Pedroza said. "It's just a very slow recovery for everybody."

Jeremy Tobias is executive director of Community Action Partnership of Kern, which provides food, energy bill assistance and other social safety net services to the needy.

He said it's "great news" that personal income is up, but he wondered how much that was affecting people in practical terms.

"It hasn't trickled down to us yet with the people we serve," he said. "There's still a tremendous amount of need. It's overwhelming at times, especially for our food bank."

The problem, Tobias said, is that incomes in Kern were so low to start with that there's a great deal of ground to make up.

"Increases would have to continue for many years before we start to feel it locally," he said.

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