Census: Ohio incomes lag, but insurance improves

Ohio is doing worse than the national average for median household income and childhood poverty, but a bit better than average on health insurance coverage, according to newly released U.S. Census data.

Ohio’s median household income was 38th out of the 50 states in 2021, according to the census data, and hasn’t changed much since 2019.

At $62,262, Ohio’s median household income was $7,455 below the national average.

Ohio was in 37th place for childhood poverty, with 18.2% of children living below the federal poverty line in 2021. The national average was 16.9%. Ohio’s rate hasn’t changed substantially since 2019.

“Our belief in Ohio is that no kid should have to live in poverty. No kid should go to bed hungry,” said Will Petrik, budget researcher for Policy Matters Ohio, a progressive lobbying group. Ohio has sufficient resources to provide that, so the issue is allocating them, he said.

Health insurance

The census calculation didn’t include the impact of federal tax credits, stimulus payments, or public benefits such as SNAP and housing assistance.

An estimated 6.5% of Ohioans were uninsured in 2021, compared to 8.6% of all Americans. That put Ohio in 20th place for levels of health insurance coverage — again not much different from 2019. The number of uninsured people in Ohio dropped substantially after the state agreed to accept Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act in 2010.

The numbers come from the census bureau’s Current Population and American Community Surveys. Nationwide data for 2021 was released Sept. 13 and state-level data Sept. 15. Survey data for 2020 was not collected due to COVID-19.

Congressional legislation, and action in some states, improved access to insurance during COVID-19, cutting uninsured rates in every state but North Dakota.

The number of people with private health insurance fell by 0.4% nationwide between 2019 and 2021. Ohio is in the midrange there, with about two-thirds of the population on some form of private insurance.

The national number of people covered by public insurance such as Medicaid increased by 1.4% to 36.8%. It also increased in Ohio, to cover about a third of the population. That, once again, puts Ohio in the midrange of states that expanded Medicaid.

Addressing income, poverty

Greg Lawson, research fellow at the conservative Buckeye Institute, said the best way to improve both median incomes and childhood poverty rates is to help Ohioans access good-paying jobs.

This involves reducing regulatory obstacles for occupational licenses, and improving pathways for jobs that don’t require four-year degrees.

“How do we get funding into the community colleges so that they can take care of, in particular, some of the folks being addressed here that are more likely to be lower income and in poverty?” he said.

“That is how you ultimately get more income, and that is how you’re going to eventually deal with poverty, is to get people making more money,” he said.

Raising the minimum wage tends to increase wages across the board, and making unionization easier can lead to workers making significantly more, Petrik said.

Ohio’s minimum wage rose on Jan 1 to $9.30 an hour, and it will rise again next year, per a 2006 constitutional amendment indexing the wage to inflation.

Policy Matters urges putting more money in the pockets of lower-income families, Petrik said.

A dramatic drop in childhood poverty nationwide, tied to a federal child tax credit and direct economic stimulus payments, has been widely reported. Those policies had an “immediate impact” on families’ economic stability, Petrik said. Policy Matters advocates for creation of a state refundable child tax credit or earned-income tax credit, he said.

While overall poverty declined nationwide, it increased among the elderly, he said. Many seniors are on fixed incomes which did not keep pace with inflation, but federal pandemic relief and economic stimulus mitigated some of that impact, Petrik said.

Josh Sweigart contributed to this report

By the numbers

38th: Where Ohio ranks among states in median household income

$62,262: Ohio’s median household income in 2021

20th: Where Ohio ranks among states for levels of health insurance coverage

37th: Where Ohio ranks among states for childhood poverty

18.2%: The percent of children in Ohio living below the federal poverty level in 2021

Source: U.S. Census Bureau

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