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Region posts strong gains in income

Here's more proof that the Buffalo Niagara region can take an economic licking and keep on ticking:

Our personal incomes grew last year at a respectable 3.1 percent pace, according to new figures from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis. Despite the sluggish recovery from the Great Recession, our total income growth put the Buffalo Niagara region in the top 40 percent among all U.S. metro areas -- No. 138 out of 366 to be precise.

That's pretty good, especially when you consider that the region also is losing population, which means that per capita income growth likely was fairly strong last year as well. The bureau didn't release per capita figures as it awaits new census data.

Buffalo Niagara also stacks up pretty well against our upstate brethren. Our income growth last year was stronger than that of Rochester, Syracuse and Albany. We also did better than the 2.9 percent nationwide increase in total personal income.

The figures also show signs that the region's economy strengthened last year as it emerged from the deepest U.S. economic downturn in more than 70 years.

Looking at the three main components that make up personal income shows improvement across the board. Our earnings, which fell 1.6 percent in 2009, started growing again last year, rising by 2.4 percent.

So did the dividends, rent and interest we receive, which grew by 1.6 percent last year after tumbling by 6.9 percent in 2009. And our transfer payments, which soared by 11.9 percent in 2009 as more people received unemployment benefits and other forms of public assistance, grew at a rate -- 6.1 percent -- that was almost half the 2009 pace.

The personal income figures are important because they provide an indication of how much money local households have to spend. Consumers, after all, account for about 70 percent of all economic activity in the United States, so if their income stream strengthens, they will have more money to spend and save and invest.

The income figures also give a glimpse into the segments of the local job market that are doing well and those that are struggling.

In Buffalo Niagara, 2010 was a good year to be in management, with total incomes jumping by 8.3 percent. Educational services were hot, too, with incomes in that sector growing by 6.7 percent. Accommodation and food services, one of the fastest-growing portions of the local job market, also posted strong total income growth at 6.1 percent. Total income from professional and technical services grew by 5.5 percent.

On the downside, the struggling segments weren't too surprising. In the shrinking utility sector, total income dropped by 7.7 percent. Total income from the region's tiny information segment tumbled by 5.1 percent. Income dropped by 1.3 percent at local finance and insurance firms. Manufacturing income dipped by 0.7 percent.

The federal stimulus program and the temporary surge in hiring for census jobs had a big impact, too. Government accounted for 23 percent of the region's total income last year.

Contrast that with manufacturing, which once was king in the Buffalo Niagara region. It accounted for just 13 percent of the region's total income last year, a stunning drop from 21 percent a decade ago.

But that is not surprising when you consider that we've also lost two of every five local factory jobs over that period.

email: drobinson@buffnews.com

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