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Growth in minorities' buying power continues

Alaska Natives' spending income increases slightly

Posted: Wednesday, September 21, 2005

ATLANTA - The consumer market is becoming a more diverse place, according to report on minority buying power released Tuesday.

Nationwide, the amount of disposable income is growing faster among blacks, Hispanics, Asians and American Indians than the overall consumer picture.

In the past 15 years, Hispanic buying power has grown 247 percent - outpacing the 113 percent increase in the total market, according to the University of Georgia's Selig Center for Economic Growth. During that same time, Asians expanded their income pool by 240 percent.

"Basically, the Asian and Hispanic markets are neck and neck in terms of growth," said Jeff Humphreys, director of the Selig Center and author of the report.

In the early 1990s, the center became one of the first groups to start tracking buying power, or the amount of personal income left over after taxes, for different races and ethnic groups.

Since then, whether through improved wages, sheer population growth or increase in business ownership, the gains have been significant for most groups.

"The bottom line is anyone considering investing in marketing ... needs to consider the multicultural economy," Humphreys said.

Alaska now holds the nation's eighth-largest American Indian market, according to the report.

The study bases its racial categories on U.S. Census data that combines American Indians and Alaska Natives.

The group's buying power in the state totals $1.9 billion, up only slightly from $913 million in 1990. The level of income activity within the group in Alaska is projected to hit $2.5 billion in another five years.

"Compared to 1990, Native Americans' share of the market will rise the most in New Mexico, Alaska, Montana, North Dakota and South Dakota," Humphreys said.

Neil Fried, an economist with the Alaska Department of Labor, said the size of the state's Native population could be part of the reason behind the large pool of disposable income, especially when compared with other states.

"Just by raw numbers, that's going to be a huge advantage," he said. "Some other states have very small populations (of those counted as American Indians) but have casinos, so in some cases have large amounts but for smaller groups."

Fried said the state's shift in jobs to service and hospitality-related fields could be why Alaska Natives' collective buying power has not increased

"We lost some ground in the oil and fishing and timber, which tend to be high-wage industries," he said. "Our incomes have not grown that rapidly in the last decade."

While Alaska's American Indian buying power has increased 111 percent in the past 15 years, the spending ability among its estimated 32,000 Hispanic residents rose 216 percent.

• Vicky Eckenrode can be reached at vicky.eckenrode@morris.com.



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