By NewsPress Staff
Stillwater News Press
STILLWATER, Okla. —
Stillwater was recently recognized by USA Today in its article “Nine cities where wealth is soaring.”
It listed cities with the largest increases in median household income (the mid-point of incomes in the range) from 2009-2012, according to the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey. The list also compared poverty rates and unemployment rates.
The numbers were surprising when compared to national figures:
Increase in median income: 17.5 percent
Median household income: $32,567
Poverty rate: 30.1 percent
A majority of the cities listed had median incomes below the $51,771 national level and poverty levels above the 15.7 percent national average, giving them room for improvement. Stillwater also suffered in comparison to the state as a whole.
Only Bentonville, Ark., was better than the national average in both categories.
Although most cities listed exceeded national poverty rates, USA Today noted their rates declined while the national rate increased.
Three of the cities, including Stillwater, benefited from the presence of large, public universities, which seemed to weather the recent recession better than many industries.
Almost half of Stillwater’s 28,652 workers were employed in educational services, health care and social assistance or public administration in 2011, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
One factor holding Stillwater’s median household income down is the location of the city’s up-scale housing, said Stillwater Vice-Mayor Chuck Hopkins.
Many of the city’s more affluent residents live in housing developments outside the city limits and the census doesn’t count them, he said.
The presence of large student populations likely brought down median income in Stillwater and the other college towns because students tend to work part-time and often work in lower-paying service jobs.
It also makes Stillwater’s rate of home ownership much lower than the national average.
More than 20 percent of Stillwater’s workers were employed in retail or hospitality and food services. About 26 percent earned $1,250 per month, the equivalent of 40 hours a week at minimum wage, or less.
Stillwater Chamber of Commerce CEO and President Lisa Navrkal praised the university’s impact on Stillwater. She said OSU has hit enrollment milestones in the past few years that also increase faculty and administration numbers, pushing up wages.
“The contribution of the student population and having the advantages the university adds to our community outweighs the comparison of numbers,” she wrote.
The presence of Oklahoma State University bumps the education level in Stillwater with 49 percent of Stillwater residents over 25 holding bachelor’s or advanced degrees compared to Oklahoma’s 23 percent and 28.5 percent nationally. The city also boasts a higher percentage of high school graduates than the state and nation.