After reading this article about trends in non-earned income, I became curious about the trends in overall personal income by source. The U.S. Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Economic Analysis has a wealth of local and regional data. They report annual aggregate personal income, as well as the source of personal income. Because the BEA measures include the value of “in-kind” transfers, such as Food Stamps (SNAP) and medical payments from Medicaid/Medicare, they capture the range of income streams that flow into a region.

This graphic tracks personal income by source for 14 of North Carolina’s Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSAs) from 1969-2012. The top chart shows the relative share of each type. The bottom chart shows the per capita value (in $2012) of each income type.

More about the components of personal income

According to BEA, personal income is “income received by all persons from all sources.” This has three major components:

  1. Net Earnings: “The sum of wages and salaries, supplements to wages and salaries, and proprietors’ income.”
  2. Dividends, Interest, and Rent: The totality of personal income from dividends, interest income from all sources, net rental income, and “royalties received from patents, copyrights, and the right to natural resources.”
  3. Personal current transfer receipts: “Payments to persons for which no current services are performed.” These payments may reflect prior payments and service—e.g., retirement benefits—or they may reflect payments based on current need, such as welfare payments. Transfer receipts have three subcategories:
    • Income Maintenance: This category includes most welfare programs and are payments targeted at households with economic need. This group “consists largely of supplemental security income payments, family assistance, food stamp payments, and other assistance payments, including general assistance.”
    • Unemployment Insurance Compensation: This includes unemployment insurance from all sources: state, federal, railroad employees, and other sources.
    • Retirement and Other: This category is all transfer payments that are not included in income maintenance or unemployment insurance benefit payments. This category includes “retirement and disability benefit payments, medical benefits, veterans benefit payments, [and] federal education and training benefits.”
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