OMAHA, Neb. — The median household income in Nebraska and Iowa rose last year, thanks largely to strong agricultural sales, even as the national median income dropped, according to U.S. Census Bureau data released Thursday.
The report, which compared 2010 data with data collected last year, said Nebraska's median income grew 1.1 percent in 2011, to $50,296, while Iowa's grew 0.1 percent, to $49,427. The U.S. median income dropped 1.3 percent last year, to $50,502.
Nationwide, median household incomes rose in only 13 states and the District of Columbia. Vermont led the nation with a 4.1 percent increase in its median income, but most of the states with gains were in the Midwest or West.
The strength of agriculture has helped Nebraska and Iowa withstand the economic uncertainty of the past few years, and it's a factor in these income figures, said David Drozd, research coordinator at the Center for Public Affairs Research at the University of Nebraska Omaha.
When farmers do well, they invest in new equipment and support a variety of businesses. USDA statistics show that in 2011 Iowa and Nebraska ranked second and third in the amount of farm income generated in each state.
Demand and prices for the corn and soybeans from the two states remained high, helping Iowa farmers generate $10.8 billion in net farm income last year and Nebraska farmers generated $7.5 billion.
"The relatively good performance of the farm economy has helped the rest of the state over the past few years," Iowa State University economist Liesl Eathington said.
Creighton University economist Ernie Goss said strong farm income was the most important factor in boosting household incomes in Nebraska and Iowa.
But Goss said it also helped that the housing sector in Nebraska and Iowa wasn't nearly as weak here as it was in many other states.
The relatively low unemployment rates in Nebraska and Iowa also helped keep the median income figure strong. In July, Nebraska's unemployment remained the second-lowest in the nation at 4 percent, and Iowa's rate registered at 5.3 percent. By comparison, the national unemployment rate was 8.3 percent in July.
In Nebraska, the strongest income growth was reported in rural areas where median income increased 2.6 percent to $44,177. In the state's small and large cities, median income grew only about 0.9 percent to $51,796.
In Iowa, the strongest income growth came in small and large cities where median income grew 0.9 percent to $50,844. In rural areas of Iowa, median income declined 3.1 percent to $45,317.