Canadian County ranked one of the state's “least difficult” places to live
It’s not hard to conclude after a conversation with Yukon City Manager Grayson Bottom that he feels optimistic about the city’s future.
Overall, projections look good for Yukon.
“According to the 2000 census, the average household income was $56,492,” Bottom said. “The first quarter of 2014, the average was $74,932 — big jump. And the projection from the census bureau is that, by the next census, our average household income will be $83,666.”
Yukon is a growing city in Canadian County, one of the state’s “least difficult” places to live, according to a recent analysis.
Canadian County recently ranked No. 354 out of 3,135 U.S. counties in a New York Times analysis of the least difficult and most difficult places to live in the country. Counties near the top of the list are regarded as being less difficult to live in.
The county scored Oklahoma’s best ranking in the analysis, thanks in part to its high median household income, high percentage of residents with college degrees, low unemployment rate and low rate of residents receiving disability payments.
Bottom said more young families are moving to Yukon, a community with a small-town feel, even though a little more than 72,000 people live in the ZIP code.
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“We’re seeing it happen — great schools, great health care, affordable housing, lots of ways to be entertained throughout the year,” Bottom said. “Lord, we’ve got a festival a month out here.”
However, the same cannot be said throughout Oklahoma.
Drive about four hours southeast among the hills and forests of Oklahoma, and you’ll see a different story.
McCurtain County’s median income is $30,000 less than Canadian County’s rate, and fewer residents have college degrees.
More residents are on disability, and the county’s unemployment rate is about 8 percent, almost double Canadian County’s 4.2 percent rate.
McCurtain County was ranked No. 2,890 on the list of least and most difficult places to live, according to the Times analysis. That score made it the most difficult place to live in Oklahoma.
However, residents like Cody Cox might argue that the county has plenty to enjoy, raising its residents’ qualities of life, despite the challenges they might face.
“McCurtain County is prettier than Oklahoma City — I don’t think I can get in too much trouble saying that,” said Cox, southern area manager for the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission.
For example, McCurtain County is home to thousands of acres of forest and lakes, including Beavers Bend State Park, Broken Bow Lake, Little River National Wildlife Refuge and a portion of the Ouachita National Forest.
“It’s a beautiful place to live and a great place to raise a family in a small rural setting,” Cox said.
Cox drives about 20 miles to work each week day — but it takes him only about 15 minutes. That would be an hour’s drive in Oklahoma City traffic, he said.
International Paper is one of the largest employers in the region, providing high-paying jobs with benefits and upward mobility. People tend to stay in those jobs, for it can be difficult to find high-paying year-round work, Cox said.
“It’s just that those jobs don’t come open very often,” Cox said. “People are going to be there for life.”
The unemployment rate in southeast Oklahoma has historically been higher than the rest of the state.
Meanwhile, even the highest paid residents in McCurtain County earn on average less than other Oklahomans. The majority of Oklahoma residents earn less than $72,000. Meanwhile, in McCurtain County, most residents earn less than $58,000.
Lynn Gray, Oklahoma Employment Security Commission economic research and analysis director, said some of that could potentially be attributed to a lack of oil and gas jobs in eastern Oklahoma.
Generally speaking, counties with the greatest oil and gas production have the lowest unemployment rates, he said.
“The wages in the oil industry are pretty high,” Gray said, “and they’ve increased significantly over the last few years.”
A New York Times analysis looked at six data points for each county in the United States: education, or percentage of residents with at least a bachelor’s degree; median household income; unemployment rate; disability rate; life expectancy; and obesity. From there, each county in the U.S. was ranked, based on those factors.