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Wadena County dead last in median income

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Wadena County had the lowest median household income among counties in the state of Minnesota from 2005-2009, according to 2010 American Community Survey results.

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Minnesota Public Radio News reported that while smaller counties like Wadena had too small of a sample size to be stacked up against each other for 2010 data, the combined data from the five years before then were enough to make a comparison. The median household income for Wadena was about $34,200. In the report, Wadena County had the fifth highest poverty rate from 2005-2009, behind Mahnomen, Blue Earth, Nobles and Lake of the Woods.

Paul Sailer at the Wadena County Social Services said that there were two main factors behind the numbers.

"The jobs that are available in Wadena County don't pay as well as well on average as the same work in other parts of the state, such as that St. Cloud to Twin Cities to Rochester corridor," he said. "And we have a high percentage of elderly in Wadena County."

Sailer said that "household income" considers not only families, but single people living alone, including elderly - and Wadena County has a disproportionate number of senior citizens compared to the rest of the state, which would skew the numbers low.

"Elderly tend to have a lower income than working people," Sailer said.

He also said that Wadena County's unemployment rate has been consistently high compared to the rest of Minnesota, and better job opportunities tend to be along a corridor from St. Cloud to the Twin Cities to Rochester.

Sailer said that Wadena County, along with Lake of the Woods County, has more land that isn't useful for agriculture and not a lot of manufacturing jobs available.

"Where you have more manufacturing, you tend to have higher wages, better benefits, sometimes unions, that would affect income as well," he said.

The unemployment rate in Wadena County had peaked in 2009, but has still not gone down to pre-recession levels.

"Now they are talking about double dip recession and things like that, so we aren't going to know for a while if we're out of the woods or not. This winter will probably be a good test," Sailer said.

The Community Profiles Map Series, published in spring 2011, showing mostly 2005-2009 data and provided online by mnhousing.gov, indicates that Wadena County had medium household incomes lower than $39,399 and median family incomes lower than $49,575.

Compared to the rest of Wadena County, the poverty rate was higher in the central and southeast area including Sebeka, Verndale, Aldrich and west Staples than the northern area including Menahga and Nimrod and the southwest area including the city of Wadena. The median rent was also significantly lower than the greater Minnesota average at $345 or less in the latter two areas.

Northern Wadena County, including Menahga and Nimrod, had a low percent of low-income (less than $50,000) homeowners paying more than 30 percent of income on housing. Most of Wadena County also had a low percent of low-income renters paying more than 30 percent of income on housing, with the exception of the southwest corner including the city of Wadena.

The home ownership rate was less than 59.9 percent in the southwest corner of the county, between 59.9 percent and 74.8 percent in the northern area and between 74.9 percent and 83.8 percent in the central and southeast area.

Median home sale prices were low throughout the county less than $135,000, and they had slightly decreased between 2006 and 2009.

Monthly homeowner costs with a mortgage were slightly lower throughout Wadena County compared to greater Minnesota as a whole.

Rental vacancy rates throughout Wadena County were low.

All three sections of Wadena County had a high unemployment rate between 7.7 and 16 percent in December 2010, which was also true of the surrounding areas of northern Hubbard, western Cass, northern Todd and southeastern Becker counties, with east Otter Tail having a lower unemployment rate.

In the decade 2000-2009, southwest Wadena County had the most job losses in raw numbers, but was in the same job loss percentage bracket as northern Wadena County. A section of east Otter Tail County including Bluffton was in the worst bracket of percent job losses with at least 16 percent.

Wadena County throughout had a high proportion of residents 55 years of age or older.

Wadena County throughout was bracketed as having a "high need for stabilization," meaning low- to moderate-income communities with a lot of foreclosures or drop in housing prices. It was also bracketed as having a high need for "maintaining aging housing stock," meaning having an older housing stock and lower incomes and that housing stock may be dilapidated and in need of rehabilitation.

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