You might reasonably guess that the total personal income of Carbon County is the sum of all the paychecks collected by all the employees in private industry and government here. That's not even close.
Even if you add rents collected by landlords, savings account interest, stock dividends, and employer benefits like health insurance and pension contributions, you still get a little more than three quarters of the total. Here's where the rest comes from.
Somewhere between a quarter and fifth of total personal income in Carbon County comes from federal and state transfer payments. Those are Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps, Pell Grants, unemployment compensation - all the so-called safety net programs that provide basic support directly or indirectly to individuals.
That proportion of transfer income in this county has just about doubled over the four decades between 1969 and 2009, according to the federal Bureau of Economic Analysis. In 2009 - the most recent year with complete figures - total personal income was $680.9 million. Of that, transfer receipts here accounted for $152 million, or 22.3 percent of the total. Divide that by the county's population of about 21,000, and you get the equivalent of $7,240 for every man, woman and child living here.
By way of contrast, those transfer payments made up 11.2 percent of personal income in 1969.
Why the increase, and why is Carbon's proportion of transfer payments higher than the statewide average of 13 percent?
For one thing, Carbon County is "grayer" than Utah as a whole. The 2010 census showed that fully 13.6 percent of the county's population - a little more than one person in eight - was 65 or older. Statewide, that proportion is 9 percent. That means we have about 50 percent more oldsters in the county's population than the state has overall.
We're also statistically poorer than the state average. Utah averages 10.8 percent of its population living below the poverty line, while Carbon County has a 12.6 percent rate. Our median income - the level where half make more and half make less - is about $42,000, while the state's is around $56,300.
With age come the qualifications for Old Age, Survivor and Disability Insurance benefits (Social Security). In 2009, those benefits amounted to $53.4 million, roughly 7.8 percent of the county's total income. That's up slightly from 1969, when OASDI was 6.1 percent of the total.
While those retirement and disability payments are made to individuals, the biggest increase in transfer payments came from the payments through individuals. That means Medicare for seniors and Medicaid for low income persons, which pay health care providers for services. Back in 1969, the two programs together accounted for a little more than 1 percent of total income - Medicare was .89 percent and and Medicaid, .34 percent.
Rising costs of health care changed that. Forty years later, Medicare benefits zoomed to 5.3 percent of total income, or $36.4 million. Medicaid and other medical vendor payments went to $25.2 million, 3.7 percent of income.
Using 2009 figures for these programs does distort the comparison. That was the year the nation and the county ran into the great recession. Transfer payments here surged 12.76 percent from the previous year. State unemployment compensation, which had been $1.9 million in 2008, hit $5.5 million in 2009, for example.
Incidentally, here are the figures for a few of the items at the center of much congressional and campaign talk these days. Unemployment compensation was 0.84 percent of the total county income, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (commonly called food stamps) was 0.52 percent, and other support contributions such as supplemental nutrition for women, infants and children; earned income tax credit; child tax credits and several other items added up to 1.02 percent.