“It’s different questions, different methodologies and timing — reporting different things,” says Kelley.
Not surprisingly, BEA’s figures are significantly higher than those of the Census Bureau because they cast a much wider income/benefits net. In Ashtabula County, the 2005 figure was $25,632. County data always runs one year behind state and national; in 2006 the Ohio per capita personal income figure was $33,338. Nationally, it was $36,276.
There is a third way of calculating per capita compensation, which relies upon Labor Market Information ES-202 data. Once again, administrative data files for individual sectors are used, however, without benefits included.
“It’s basically an hourly wage with no benefits, that can be broken out by sector,” says Kelley. The data are reported weekly; therefore, the figure is a single point of reference, which can vary widely based upon the season. And it does not take into account government payments or investments, as the BEA data do.
Further complicating the issue is what happens when a worker lives in one county but earns wages in another. According to the Ohio Department of Development, provision is made in the formulas for that scenario, but Kelly says it’s done by using a mathematical estimation, not an exact accounting.
Calculating median household income is likewise complicated because households are increasingly difficult to define. The household can be a traditional family unit, including a mom, dad and two kids, or two individuals co-habitating but each one reporting as a separate “household.”
While it would seem the simple solution to getting good data would involve compiling tax-return data, Kelley says that information is confidential and inaccessible.
“It gets to be difficult because of the role of taxes,” he says.