Pew report details decline of income, middle class in NC metro areas

Median household income fell 8 percent nationwide between 1999 and 2014 when adjusted for inflation, but the decline was especially severe in some of North Carolina’s small metropolitan areas, according to a new study from the Pew Research Center.

Winston-Salem, Burlington, Rocky Mount and Goldsboro all experienced declines in median household income of 20 percent or more during that period and rank among the 10 worst-performing metro areas included in the study.

The study follows an earlier one by the Pew Research Center that concluded that the middle class is shrinking in the United States. It delves more deeply into the data and concludes that the share of people considered middle class declined in nearly 89 percent of the 229 metro areas for which Census data was available in 1999 and 2014.

The share of people in the middle declined as the percentages of both low- and upper-income households grew, to the point where barely more than half of adults in the United States in 2014 could be considered middle class.

But in metro areas like Goldsboro, the growth of low-income households overwhelmed any gains at the top, the study found. The share of adults in the middle class in Goldsboro declined from 60 percent in 2000 to 48 percent in 2014, while lower-income households increased from 27 percent to 41 percent.

During that time, Goldsboro’s median household income, scaled for a three-person household, declined 26 percent, from $66,035 to $48,570. Only Springfield, Ohio, experienced a larger decline, the study found, and Rocky Mount, Burlington and Winston-Salem weren’t far behind.

Pew found that the Raleigh metro area’s median household income declined 13 percent when adjusted for inflation, to $74,283, and that statewide household income also declined 13 percent. The Durham metro area was not included in the study.

The Pew Research Center is an independent think tank based in Washington, D.C., that doesn’t take policy positions. The full report, The Geography of America’s Shrinking Middle Class, can be found at www.pewsocialtrends.org/.

Richard Stradling: 919-829-4739, @RStradling