Arizonans continue to lose ground in their bid to at least keep pace with national income gains.
New figures Monday show that the year-over-year increase in per capita personal income in Arizona's six metropolitan areas was no more than 4 percent. In some cases it was less.
By contrast, the national increase between 2010 and 2011 was 4.4 percent, according to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis.
What makes the numbers more bleak is that Arizona per capita incomes are already far below the U.S. average. So the failure to even match that 4.4 percent national change means that the state's residents are falling further behind.
Economist Dennis Hoffman of the W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University called the latest figures disappointing.
Hoffman said about the only "silver lining in an otherwise dark cloud" is that the cost of living in much of Arizona is below the national average. So that means the below-average incomes go farther here.
Marshall Vest of the Eller College of Management at the University of Arizona was a bit more upbeat about the numbers.
"At least per capita income is moving in the right direction," he said.
Gov. Jan Brewer, who has been in office since the beginning of 2009, said she had not seen the report and could not comment Monday on whether it indicates weakness in her economic development policies.
"But I believe that we've been very successful and we feel comfortable moving forward with what we have done," she said.
Gubernatorial press aide Matthew Benson cited a report by the Bank of Montreal, which looks at things like the jobless rate and home prices. It rates Arizona's economic performance the fifth-best in the nation; less than six months ago the bank, parent of BMO Harris Bank, ranked Arizona as 38th.
Home values, rather than earnings, are "the largest single thing factor that impacts a person's wealth," Benson said.
And something else on the horizon may help: California voters just approved a quarter-cent increase in state sales taxes for four years and higher income taxes for those making at least $250,000 a year for seven years, retroactive to the beginning of this year.
Vest said that may convince Californians that life is better in Arizona. "A lot of people from California are bringing their businesses with them," he said.
Arizona already is fishing in that pond, opening economic development offices earlier this year in Santa Monica and Santa Clara.
"With all the tax reform we've accomplished and with the stability and accountability in Arizona state government, we have been very successful in regards to luring California businesses," Brewer said.
Vest agreed, saying, "We see a lot of people moving here from California who are fed up with the high taxes … and the congestion," making Arizona "quite attractive." Vest said that migration will grow more "as soon as Californians are once again able to sell their houses."
But the income gap remains.
Arizona has traditionally had lower per capita personal income than the national average, in part because of the number of retirees and children, people without income but who are part of the computation.
Better workforce quality
By contrast, Hoffman said, places like Silicon Valley, Boston and Austin are showing an acceleration of income, even though many are high-cost-of-living areas. Hoffman attributed that to what economist Enrico Moretti called the "new geography of job growth."
"It's the tech people that are driving higher incomes," Hoffman explained. "Tech firms and tech workers are flocking to the same old places."
He said Arizona needs to become one of those destinations if it is ever to show improvement in wages.
Lower taxes are not the answer, Hoffman contended. "We've clearly got our tax rates set at levels that can attract businesses," he said. "Taxes and regulations are no longer any impediment whatsoever to businesses moving to Arizona."
What's needed, Hoffman said, is "a smart, talented workforce" and a place tech firms can come and have a market for their wares.
"We've got some work to do there," he said, including providing education that can "improve the quality of our workforce."
Per capita personal income
Metro US Rank 2010-11 area 2009 2010 2011 2011 increase
U.S. $38,637 $39,791 $41,560 - 4.4%
Flagstaff $33,331 $33,035 $34,353 247 4.0%
Lake Havasu $24,975 $25,165 $26,145 362 3.9%
Phoenix $35,190 $35,422 $36,833 180 4.0%
Prescott $28,574 $28,488 $29,490 348 3.5%
Tucson $33,803 $33,884 $34,961 227 3.2%
Yuma $25,998 $26,351 $27,091 360 2.8%
Source: U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis