Economic growth has slowed in the El Paso border region despite some bright spots in the latest U.S. Census Bureau data released Thursday, experts say.
El Paso's median family income and median household incomes rose in 2012 compared to 2011, according to the bureau's American Community Survey.
The median household income for El Paso was $40,345 in 2012, slightly better than $40,195in 2011. The median family income was
$45,256 in 2012, compared with $43,704 in 2011.
In Texas, the median household income of $50,740 in 2012 was largely unchanged from 2011, and was lower than the pre-recession level of $52,365, according to the Associated Press.
The percentage of families with household incomes of between $50,000 to $74,999 also rose to 20 percent from 18.4 percent over the same period. Also, more people were in the workforce, 614,037 in 2012 compared with 605,511 in 2011, statistics show.
Jim Peach, a border region economic expert based in Las Cruces, N.M., said the improvement in El Paso's median household income "is statistically insignificant. You also have a drop in per capita income, from $18,478 in 2011 to $18,084 in 2012, as well as an increase in the unemployment rate of 8.5 percent to 10.4 percent. It's not a pretty picture."
Peach, an economics professor at New Mexico State University, said the U.S. Bureau of Labor, which releases its report today will offer a more detailed look at the employment situation for the nation and region.
He said Southern New Mexico's economy is not growing at a healthy pace either. To climb out of the Great Recession, El Paso and the region need to grow by 4 to 5 percent. The protracted recession began in 2008.
"We don't have an industry here that is leading us out of the recession," Peach said. "Manufacturing is flat, the retail job rate is not that much greater than it was in 2012. And, while the maquiladora industry is experiencing growth, that may be more important in the future than it is now."
The Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas reported in August in its El Paso Economic Indicators report that "maquiladora payrolls in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, are beginning to see the effect of the recent soft patch in U.S. industrial production."
Matthew McElroy, El Paso's city development director, said many households expanded during the Great Recession because some families took in other members to weather the economic downturn. The median household income would include such extended families.
Median family income, however, with half the families making more and the other half making less that amount, grew about 3.55 percent from $43,704 in 2011 to $45,256, which is better than the rate of inflation of 3 percent.
"But when you look at the per capita income and median household income, you're just not keeping up with inflation," McElroy said.
Nathan Ashby, economics professor at the University of Texas at El Paso, said, "It appears that household median income in El Paso increased between 2011 and 2012 to about $40,345, a 0.37 percent increase. Although this is greater than the national increase of about 0.1 percent, it is not too remarkable."
"Given the economic crisis of 2008, an increase in income would need to be much higher in order to recover fully," Ashby said. "Keep in mind that the unemployment rate actually increased from 8.5 to 10.4 percent while the percentage of households earning less than $15,000 increased slightly."
"I am not sure what is causing the increase in income, but it's conjecture that it is largely due to cyclical recovery," Ashby said. "The manufacturing, retail trade, public administration, and finance, insurance, and real estate sectors added significantly to their payrolls in 2012 while construction and transportation and warehousing declined."
According to the Associated Press, Texas is one of only two states that reported a decline in the poverty rate, 17.9 percent in 2012, down from 18.5 percent in 2011. The federal threshold for poverty is $18,480 a year for a family of three.
Nationally, 15.9 percent of people lived in poverty compared with 15.1 percent in Texas, based on statistics of the U.S. Census Bureau.
Peach and other experts agreed that the region is suffering the residual effects of the 2008 recession. Peach said growth in this region slowed down due to federal budget cuts, political wrangling in Washington, D.C., over the proposed new federal budget, and the military budget cuts at Fort Bliss.
The Federal Reserve of Dallas reported that El Paso's jobless rate stood at 8.8 percent in July of 2013.
"From December (2012) to July (2013), El Paso lost close to 800 jobs," according to Federal Reserve analyst Roberto Coronado's report. "So far this year, the (business cycle) has registered 0.7 annualized growth, compared with 4.3 percent growth over the same period last year."
Jose Contreras, vice president of international relations for the Juarez chamber of commerce (Canaco), said the recession has been tough, but that things are starting to improve in Juarez.
"The recession and insecurity caused many small businesses to shut down or move to El Paso," said Contreras, who's owned and operated various businesses since 1975. "The violence in Juarez is down significantly, and we've got manufacturers who are returning fromChina and are inquiring about Juarez-El Paso. We're beginning to see businesses that had moved to El Paso moving back to Juarez."
In El Paso, the Fountains at Farah is the newest shopping center to open this week, and is already attracting customers from throughout the region. City officials recently said there are plans for other major retail outlets to open stores in Northeast El Paso within the next two years.
Does that mean El Paso could get, and support, a high-end retailer like Neiman Marcus some day?
"Given that Neiman Marcus tends to cater to higher income clientele, I would not think that El Paso is on its radar at this time," said Ashby, venturing a guess. "Household income in El Paso County is about 25 percent less than the national average and there are plenty of other markets that would probably make more sense for (a Neiman Marcus) expansion."
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