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Ohio income drops; 1 in 6 live in poverty

From 2007 to 2012 - a span that covered the start of the Great Recession and a supposed economic recovery - the median income for Ohio’s 4.6 million households fell by almost $4,800, after adjustment for inflation.

That 9.2 percent drop was the 10th-worst slide among the 50 states and the District of Columbia during the challenging six-year period, according to estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey.

Ohio’s poverty rate, meanwhile, increased by 3.2 percentage points, from 13.1 percent in 2007 to 16.3 percent in 2012. That increase was in the top third of states.

During that period, Ohio’s poverty population grew by more than 360,000, reaching 1.8 million. About one in six Ohioans was living in poverty in 2012. The poverty level in 2012 was $23,050 for a family of four, $11,170 for an individual.

The most obvious message in the data is that Ohio — like much of the nation — has not fully recovered from the recession, said economist Ned Hill, dean of the College of Urban Affairs at Cleveland State University.

“This was a nasty, deep, brutal recession,” Hill said.

Hill said the data indicate that the economy needs more stimulus.

“If there’s a lack of business confidence, investment doesn’t take place and people don’t get hired,” Hill said. “People say what happens in Washington doesn’t affect us in Ohio, except that is just not true.”

Area counties suffer

Locally, some of the numbers are worse than the state.

In Montgomery County, the poverty rate increased by 3.9 percentage points from 14.8 percent in 2007 to 18.7 percent in 2012. That’s more than 2 percentage points higher than the state rate.

Almost 97,000 Montgomery County residents were living in poverty that year — about two out of every 11 people.

Clark, Greene and Montgomery counties all saw double-digit percent decreases in median household income during the six-year period.

Clark County had the largest drop, and the third-largest among the 38 Ohio counties large enough to be covered by the survey. The one-year survey estimates only cover areas with populations of at least 65,000. Clark County’s median household income dropped by more than $8,000, or 17.1 percent, to hit just over $39,000.

Greene County saw a drop of almost $7,900, or 13 percent, to hit an estimated $52,544 in 2012.

Montgomery County had a drop of more than $6,100, or 12.6 percent, in its median household income, which fell from $48,658 in 2007, after adjustment for inflation, to $42,524 in 2012.

The effects have been felt by local service agencies that serve the poor.

Goodwill Easter Seal Miami Valley, for example, has seen its income grow by more than 60 percent, said spokesman Steve Goubeaux. That growth reflects the need in the county, he said, because many of its programs grow when more people are in trouble.

One example — the nonprofit organization’s Work Experience Program — is funded by Montgomery County Job & Family Services to meet work requirements and teach job skills for families receiving cash welfare assistance. In an ominous sign, that program has served 900 people so far in 2013 – a 25 percent increase over this time last year, said Steve Kopecky, Goodwill’s director of program operations.

Homeless shelters busy

The effects of the recession have also been felt at the local St. Vincent de Paul homeless shelters.

In 2007, the St. Vincent’s shelter on Apple Street was averaging 221 men, women and children a night, said Executive Director David Bohardt. In 2012, that average was 361 – 63 percent higher. This year looks to be about the same as last year, he said.

The organization opened another shelter for men only on Gettysburg Avenue in 2009, and made the Apple Street shelter for women and children only, which encouraged more women to come in, he said. But it was also during the worst of the economic collapse.

Many people, Bohardt said, don’t understand homelessness.

“Most of our shelter guests are people who got knocked off their horses on the way to living the American dream,” he said. “They didn’t see it coming. They got blindsided by Delphi. They got blinded by the Moraine Assembly Plant. They got blindsided by all the employers who have either left the region or who have significantly cut back.

“I mean, these are people with skills and experience.”

They don’t necessarily have the skills, however, to get employment in today’s economy, he said.

“It would be impossible to overstate how important solving the employment challenge is,” Bohardt said. “Employment would not make homelessness go away, but it would make a tremendous dent in the problem.”

But it’s also about the ability to find a job that pays a living wage, he said, because about a quarter of all those in St. Vincent de Paul’s homeless shelters are working.

“I think we had over 80 children in shelter last night — most of them very young children,” Bohardt said.

“If mom has one or two children, doesn’t have good job skills and is out working in a fast food environment or a minimum wage environment, she’s probably working her tail off 40 to 50 hours a week.

“But she’s still in a shelter because there isn’t any way for her to feed and support and take care of her children — and house them at the same time.”

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