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Jon Talton

Analysis and commentary on economic news, trends and issues, with an emphasis on Seattle and the Northwest.

December 22, 2010 at 10:00 AM

Growth and its discontents: Looking inside the Census

Washington added 830,400 people over the decade to become the 13th most populous state, according to the Census. It’s still the second most populous Western state, edging out Arizona. As the addition of a new congressional seat shows, it’s better to grow than not.

But raw population growth is a poor measure of either economic competitiveness or quality of life. It goes beyond the lament of we native Westerners for the majestic, empty land that existed 40 years ago or more. Arizona and Nevada have been consistent leaders in population growth, and yet their economies are limited: Dependent on adding ever more people and only delivering middling per-capita and median household incomes.

Washington has seen above-average growth in other important areas, incomes, venture capital, attracting world-class talent, being a trade tiger and reinventing itself with new companies and industries among them. It’s a “just right” growth. With a caveat: A populous, urbanized state presents complex challenges and needs, not all of which are met by market forces. So the “cut gub’ment to the bone” crowd might get by in a small, rural state with plenty of subsidized big ag or fossil fuels and (unmentioned) federal money. It doesn’t address the investments a big state must keep making to compete in the bigs in the future.

Life’s Good Dept.: Costco chief executive James Sinegal made Business Insider’s list of top 10 CEO bonuses with $190,400 (in total compensation of $3.5 million for fiscal 2010, a 29 percent increase). This is chump change compared with Nike CEO Mark Parker’s $4.4 million bonus. At the top, natch’: Lloyd Blankfein of Goldman Sachs with $24.3 million.

Life’s Hard Dept.: The Working Poor Families Project, whose funders include the Annie E. Casey and Ford foundations, used Census data to show that the number of low-income working families grew by 246,000 from 2008 to 2009, to a total of 10 million. (Low income is defined as earning less than 200 percent of the official poverty threshold). That translates to about 45 million Americans.

Today’s Econ Haiku:

Oil at ninety bucks

Will the recovery fall?

It’s a slick surface

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