‘Our region’s economy lags behind the rest of the nation’

BY Bill Reagan

Harlingen’s economic picture is better than it was a couple of years ago. Nevertheless, our region’s economy lags behind the rest of the nation – and pretty dramatically at that.

According to the St. Louis Federal Reserve the unemployment rate in the United States has fallen to 4.7 percent, half the high point of the Great Recession. The unemployment rate for Texas is a little better, 4.6 percent.

The Federal Reserve lumps Harlingen and Brownsville together as one Metropolitan Statistical Area. Our local unemployment rate is 6.8 percent. That is one third higher than the United States and Texas unemployment rates. An individual with an income of $12,331 or less per year is considered poor in the United States. The poverty line for a family of four (two adults and two children) is an annual income of $24,036. There have been significant decreases in the percentage of people living below the poverty line in the nation and in Texas. In the United States 13.5 percent of the population lives in poverty. Texas’ rate is 15.9 percent. There has been very little improvement in the percentage of people living in poverty in Cameron County (32 percent), or in the City of Harlingen (32.5 percent).

Our nation has seen significant gains in the number of people who have health insurance. Thirteen percent of Americans lack health insurance according to the United States Census Bureau. That is about one in eight people. About one in five Texans (20.6 percent) does not have health insurance. Nearly one in four Harlingen residents (24.5 percent) does not have health insurance.

Another measure of economic health is median household income. “Median income” means that half of the households earn more than that amount and half earn less. Texas mirrors the national economy. Median annual income in Texas is $53,207. The national figure is $53,889. Harlingen’s median annual household income is not quite two thirds the national amount, $34,466.

Bill Reagan is executive director of Loaves & Fishes of the Rio Grande Valley.