A new report paints a contradictory picture about how widely Des Moines' economic growth is benefiting residents of the metro area.

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Des Moines is among the few metro areas to enjoy “inclusive” economic growth that benefited a diverse range of the region’s population, according to a recent report from the Brookings Institution.

But not everyone believes that is true.

The Washington, D.C., think tank studied the economic recovery of nation’s 100 largest metros from 2010 to 2015. Des Moines was one of only eight metros that saw economic growth, improved prosperity for residents and improved economic standing for both white people and people of color.

“Overall, it shows Des Moines is achieving really robust and balanced growth that seems to be benefiting most people,” said Richard Shearer, senior research associate at Brookings’ Metropolitan Policy Program.

Des Moines shared that recognition with Albany, N.Y.; Austin, Texas; Charleston, S.C.; Denver; Houston; Milwaukee; and San Francisco. 

But the report also indicated the greater Des Moines economy is leaving some workers behind.

Wage growth in cities like Des Moines “did not appear to extend to workers in the bottom half of the income distribution,” the report said.

Des Moines ranked near the bottom (98th out of 100) for economic inclusiveness when defined by wage growth, improvement in relative poverty and change in employment.

In fact, Des Moines ranked dead last for change in relative poverty. From 2010 to 2015, the portion of people making less than half the local median wage increased 12.7 percent.

“It’s the opposite of inclusion,” said David Swenson, an Iowa State University economics professor.

For college-educated people moving to Des Moines, the city is full of opportunity, offering jobs and rising wages in health care, finance and business administration and other white-collar industries.

But that excludes many born-and-raised locals with less education who are experiencing stagnant wages in retail, service industries and construction, Swenson said. 

“Inclusive growth” has become a buzz-word among academics and think-tanks trying explain the economic anxiety and political divisions that have flourished despite the overall economic rebound.

There are a few possible explanations to Des Moines’ increase in relative poverty, despite its overall economic growth, Shearer said.

The improving economy pushed up the median wage, meaning more workers in low-paying jobs fell below the relative poverty threshold.

In 2016, that threshold (half of the local median wage) was about $9.30 cents per hour, according to federal data.

It also could be a result of more people returning to the workforce, he said. Some people who lost jobs during the recession likely returned to work between 2010 and 2015 in relatively low-wage jobs, adding to the ranks of workers below the relative poverty threshold. 

“The report does show a contradictory story about the inclusiveness of greater Des Moines’ growth during the recovery from the recession, but overall it appears to be a positive story,” Shearer said.

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