Lafayette's middle class 6th fastest-growing in U.S.

by Leslie Turk

A USA Today analysis shows Lafayette's middle income group, those making $20,700 to $99,900 a year, grew 4.1 percent from 2006 to 2010.

Using Census date, USA Today ranked Lafayette's middle income group, those making $20,700 to $99,900 a year, 6th in the nation. Lafayette's middle class grew 4.1 percent from 2006 to 2010, the analysis found.

The report, "Middle class' share of the nation's income is shrinking," notes that areas where the middle class' share of income dropped outnumbered those where it grew by more than 2-to-1:

"The lower share of income is a way of saying income inequality is growing in the middle," says Paul Taylor, executive vice president of the Pew Research Center, who has studied the shift. "The vast middle has less of the pie than it had before."

Lafayette Economic Development Authority chief Gregg Gothreaux says there are three primary reasons the middle class is growing here: housing values are holding, wages are on the rise (our wage growth rate is among the top 10 in the country), and unemployment is at about 5 percent. He says specialization, both outside and within the oil and gas industry, is helping the middle class. "The middle class in our area is fairly specialized - some form of advanced training. The perfect example is tech jobs in the area," he says. "We've been in the top 10 in high-tech GDP growth in the last two years."

Gothreaux also points to Lafayette ranking sixth in the nation in overall GDP growth and its 16 percent population increase reflected in the last census. "If GDP is increasing significantly, that means there are many more people coming into the community," he says. "You gotta believe a good number of the in-migration is in the middle class."

Another recent report from the Congressional Budget Office found that the nation's top income earners saw their incomes increase 275 percent from 1979 to 2007. The top 1 percent made $165,000 or more in 1979, and that figure rose to $347,000 in 2007.

Here's how Lafayette stacked up among the Top 10 in the USA Today analysis:
Hilton Head Island-Beaufort, S.C., 6.4   
Sebastian, Fla., 6.2   
Dover, Del., 4.5   
Mount Vernon, Wash., 4.4   
Wichita Falls, Texas, 4.4   
Lafayette, La., 4.1   
Dothan, Ala., 3.8
Hilo, Hawaii, 3.8   
Albany-Lebanon, Ore., 3.6
Key West, Fla., 3.6

Read USA Today's full report here.