Housing payments boost Gulf Coast personal income

Published 5:28 pm Friday, August 8, 2008

Driven by billions of dollars in federal payments to rebuild hurricane-damaged houses, U.S. personal income in 2007 grew fastest in three Mississippi and Louisiana coastal areas, the Commerce Department reported Thursday.

The one-time payments, counted by the government as property income, resulted in eye-catching jumps in the standard measure of all income from all sources. An economist said the figures did not give a true measure — and predicted the statistical growth would be short lived.

So far, the Road Home hurricane rebuilding program in Louisiana has sent $6.8 billion to homeowners, while Mississippi’s home rebuilding program has pumped in $1.63 billion.

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The New Orleans metropolitan area, where a returning population after Hurricane Katrina triggered a 52.6 percent rise in personal income from 2005 to 2006, saw another 19.5 percent rise in 2007.

Along the Mississippi coast, Pascagoula had a 19 percent rise in personal income in 2007, following a 7.5 percent rise in 2006. Gulfport-Biloxi recorded an 18.8 percent in 2007, following a 10 percent boost in 2006.

Louisiana State University economist Loren Scott called the rankings “a statistical anomaly” caused by the influx of disaster payments. He said future rankings likely would put the areas “back in the middle of the pack where their fundamentals indicate they should be.”

The oil boom fueled almost the rest of the top 10, the Commerce Department said.

Outside of hurricane payments, the petroleum price boom was a key factor in the top 10 boosts in personal income, the Commerce Department said. Those areas included Odessa, Texas; Midland, Texas; Houston; Grand Junction, Colo.; Casper, Wyo.; and Houma-Thibodaux, La.

Houma-Thibodaux registered in the seventh spot — with a 10.8 percent gain in personal income — on the strength of offshore transportation services, the Commerce Department said. Killeen-Temple in Texas, which has the giant Army installation Fort Hood, also was in the top 10.

Nationally, average metropolitan area personal income grew 6.2 percent in 2007, down from 6.8 percent in 2006, the Commerce Department said.

The 20 slowest-growing metropolitan areas were in Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin. The Midwest has been hit by a decline in durable goods manufacturing, particularly in the auto sector, the Commerce Department said.

The five fastest-growing areas on the basis on per-capita personal income — average income by person — were Pascagoula, Gulfport-Biloxi, New Orleans, Houma and another Louisiana city, Lake Charles.

Although the housing payments contributed to increases in that measure, the Commerce Department said shipyard activity also pushed up Pascagoula, while the casino-tourist industry boosted Gulfport-Biloxi. Construction was strong in Houma-Thibodaux and Lake Charles, while state and local governments boosted per capita incomes in New Orleans, the agency said.