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Shortly after former Gov. Tim Kaine announced his U.S. Senate campaign, he spoke about how far Virginia has come over the past half century.
"I’m passionate about the Virginia economic story," Kaine, a Democrat, said in an April 21 interview with WAVY -TV in Portsmouth. "We were near the bottom of the nation 50 years ago in per capita income. We’re top 10 now. We were very low in higher ed attainment rate 50 years ago. We’re greater than the national average now."
We wondered whether Kaine was right.
Let’s start with his statement on per capita income. It’s true the state now ranks in the top 10 in that measure. The federal Bureau of Economic Analysis found in a March 23, 2011, report that Virginia’s per capita personal income in 2010 was $44,762 - the seventh highest in the U.S.
Where did the state rank five decades ago?
Figures from the Bureau of Economic Analysis show Virginia had a per capita income of $1,906 in 1960, making it the 34th among the 50 states. In 1961, Virginia’s per capita income was $1,975 -- the 17th lowest.
So 50 years ago, Virginia was the top state in the lower third of the country in terms of the level of its per capita income.
One could argue that being 15 or so spots away from last place doesn’t rank the state "near the bottom" as Kaine said.
Let’s turn to Kaine’s comments on how Virginia’s level of higher education attainment has grown in the last half-century.
U.S. Census Bureau estimates from 2005 to 2009 show that 33.4 percent of Virginians age 25 and older had a bachelor’s or a higher degree. That was above the national average of 27.5 percent in the age group who had attained at least a bachelor’s degree.
So Kaine is right that Virginia outpaces the nation on this measure. The Old Dominion had the sixth highest percentage of people 25 and older who have received a bachelor’s degree or higher.
Now for some historical perspective:
A U.S. Census Bureau report examining higher education attainment found that in 1960, 8.4 percent of Virginia residents age 25 or older had earned at least a bachelor’s degree. That may seem like a small number, but it was actually higher than the national average of 7.7 percent that year.
Among states, Virginia had the 16th highest percentage of residents 25 and older who received a bachelor’s degree or beyond.
In short, Virginia’s level educational attainment 50 years ago wasn’t as dire as Kaine made it out to be. In fact it was pretty good compared to the rest of the country.
To sum up:
Kaine was absolutely right in assessing how Virginia ranks today in per capita income and higher education attainment. But his claims about where the Old Dominion stood 50 years ago have problems.
Virginia’s per capita income was indeed lower than most of its peers five decades ago, but there were about 15 states that had lower income levels than Virginia. It’s a bit of stretch for Kaine to say Virginia was "near the bottom.," Virginia was closer to the middle than the bottom.
On higher education attainment, Virginia 50 years ago outpaced the national average and most other states in the percentage of its residents earning a bachelor’s degree or higher.
So Kaine’s statement that the state had a "very low" rate of higher education attainment 50 years doesn’t pan out.
Kaine was right about the present, wrong about the past. Putting the parts together, we rate his claim Half True.
Tim Kaine interview with WAVY.com, April 21, 2011 (just over 12 minutes into interview).
Bureau of Economic Analysis report on 2010 state personal income, March 23, 2011.
Bureau of Economic historical database on per capita income, accessed on May 4, 2011.
Interview with Jeff Newman, economist at the Bureau of Economic Analysis, May 4, 2011.
U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, 2005-2009 estimates, accessed May 4, 2011.
U.S. Census Bureau report, "Educational Attainment of the population 25 years and over: 1940 to 2000,"accessed May 4, 2011.
E-mail from Brandi Hoffine, campaign spokeswoman for Kaine for VA, May 10, 2011.
Interview with Brandi Hoffine, May 11, 2011.
Bureau of Economic Analysis study, "Convergence in state per capita personal income, 1950-99", June, 2001.
U.S. Census Bureau table, "Personal income per capita in current dollars, 2008", accessed May 10, 2011.
U.S. Census Bureau tables, "A half century of learning: historical census statistics on educational attainment in the United States, 1940-2000,"accessed May 10, 2011.
U.S. Census Bureau state rankings, "Persons 25 years and older with a bachelor’s degree or more," accessed May 10, 2011.
Statemaster.com rankings on higher education attainment among the states based on U.S. Census Bureau’s 2004 American Community Survey, accessed May 10, 2011.
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