LIFE BELOW THE U.S. MEDIAN

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If you want to find a slice of America, this is the income category to focus on. This category includes people of all ages, races and ethnic backgrounds, much like the population as a whole. However, the youngest and oldest age groups are disproportionately represented in this income group. The youngest consumers — those who are age 25 and younger and who cash entry-level paychecks — account for 4.5 million households with incomes under the U.S. median of $41,994. Seniors — age 65 and older, who are mostly out of the work force and are living on retirement savings — account for 16 million households with incomes below the U.S. median. Together, these two groups account for 37 percent of households with incomes under $45,000.

Households headed by younger people can expect to see their incomes grow as they age, says Lars Perner, professor of marketing at the University of California at Riverside. “Typically, people tend to increase in salary until they retire,� he says, at which time, incomes decline. This is, in part, why many seniors have lower than average incomes. But in the coming years, seniors may see a boost in income as well, says Perner. That's because today's seniors are less likely to hold a college degree than the seniors of tomorrow, and greater education attainment should translate into increased income and earnings power over the course of their working lives.

Regardless of age, the lot of all Americans improved between 1990 and 2000. Thanks to a strengthening economy throughout the decade, the share of households with incomes of less than $45,000 dropped substantially, to 53 percent in 2000 from 70.5 percent in 1990. The drop occurred in every single state, with Utah, Colorado, Minnesota and Wisconsin experiencing the greatest percentage-point dips in low-income households. Since 2000, of course, the economy has softened, so it is likely that there are a greater number of households in the lowest income category today than there were when the Census 2000 data was gathered.

TOP 50 METROS: UNDER $45,000

Metros with the highest share of households with incomes under the U.S. median are mostly in the South and Midwest. Larger metros are home to greater numbers of people earning less than $45,000, but because more affluent people make their home in the bigger metros, the share of lower income households is lower than some might expect.

RANK METRO NUMBER PERCENT
1 McAllen-Edinburg-Mission, TX MSA 117,561 75.0%
2 Brownsville-Harlingen-San Benito, TX MSA 70,888 72.9%
3 Laredo, TX MSA 35,656 70.4%
4 Johnstown, PA MSA 64,262 70.0%
5 Huntington-Ashland, WV-KY-OH MSA 88,732 69.2%
6 Las Cruces, NM MSA 41,014 69.0%
7 Cumberland, MD-WV MSA 27,564 68.6%
8 Wheeling, WV-OH MSA 42,479 68.1%
9 Ocala, FL MSA 72,221 67.7%
10 Johnson City-Kingsport-Bristol, TN-VA MSA 134,955 67.7%
11 Alexandria, LA MSA 31,840 67.5%
12 Joplin, MO MSA 41,555 67.4%
13 El Paso, TX MSA 141,087 67.2%
14 Danville, VA MSA 30,366 67.1%
15 Enid, OK MSA 15,559 67.0%
16 Hattiesburg, MS MSA 27,841 67.0%
17 Anniston, AL MSA 30,307 66.8%
18 Steubenville-Weirton, OH-WV MSA 36,362 66.8%
19 Yuma, AZ MSA 35,923 66.6%
20 Fort Smith, AR-OK MSA 53,153 66.6%
21 Pine Bluff, AR MSA 20,341 66.6%
22 Jacksonville, NC MSA 31,998 66.5%
23 Altoona, PA MSA 34,299 66.4%
24 Gadsden, AL MSA 27,659 66.4%
25 Great Falls, MT MSA 21,654 66.4%
26 Lafayette, LA MSA 94,358 66.0%
27 San Angelo, TX MSA 26,009 65.8%
28 Bryan-College Station, TX MSA 36,172 65.5%
29 Jonesboro, AR MSA 21,109 65.4%
30 Lubbock, TX MSA 60,507 65.3%
31 Sumter, SC MSA 24,596 65.2%
32 Chico-Paradise, CA MSA 51,917 65.2%
33 Pueblo, CO MSA 35,578 65.1%
34 Williamsport, PA MSA 30,571 65.0%
35 Jamestown, NY MSA 35,400 65.0%
36 Abilene, TX MSA 30,672 64.9%
37 Texarkana, TX-Texarkana, AR MSA 31,549 64.7%
38 Wichita Falls, TX MSA 33,473 64.6%
39 Lawton, OK MSA 25,752 64.5%
40 Florence, AL MSA 37,777 64.4%
41 Goldsboro, NC MSA 27,364 64.3%
42 Dothan, AL MSA 35,138 64.2%
43 Monroe, LA MSA 35,470 64.2%
44 Parkersburg-Marietta, WV-OH MSA 39,300 64.0%
45 Gainesville, FL MSA 55,947 63.9%
46 Shreveport-Bossier City, LA MSA 96,614 63.9%
47 Waco, TX MSA 50,308 63.7%
48 Springfield, MO MSA 82,475 63.7%
49 Auburn-Opelika, AL MSA 29,123 63.7%
50 Sharon, PA MSA 29,709 63.5%
Note: Chart does not show data for metros in Puerto Rico; statistical ties are due to rounding.
Source: American Demographics analysis of Census 2000 data

THE DEMOCRACY OF LOWER INCOMES

The demographic profile of households with incomes below the U.S. median closely resembles that of the population as a whole. Blacks and Hispanics are overrepresented, while Asians and whites are underrepresented in the under-$45,000 income group.

RACE NUMBER PERCENT
White alone 42,102,905 75.2%
Black alone 8,209,835 14.7%
Native American alone 520,818 0.9%
Asian alone 1,358,931 2.4%
Multirace 1.208.306 2.2%
Hispanic 5,939,206 10.6%
Note: Does not add to 100 percent because chart includes Hispanics, who can be of any race, and excludes Native Hawaiians.
Source: American Demographics analysis of Census 2000 data
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