Two years into the recovery from the Great Recession, household incomes continue to slide in Ohio and across most states in the nation, the Census Bureau reported Thursday.
Ohio’s median household income slipped to $45,749 last year — 1.1 percent less than the previous year, when adjusted for inflation, according to the 2011 American Community Survey.
For Ohio, it was the fourth straight decline in the bellwether statistic that marks the midpoint of incomes, meaning half of all households took in more and half less.
Worse yet, the Census Bureau annual surveys indicate Ohio never fully recovered from the previous recession, which ran from March to November 2001.
Ohio’s median household income was $45,739 last year — 17.2 percent less than reported in 1999, when adjusted for inflation.
In Medina County, the decline was more staggering — nearly 21 percent.
The Census Bureau’s survey reported the county’s median income last year was $59,572, down $15,763 from the 1999 peak.
Bethany Dentler, executive director of the Medina County Economic Development Corp., said the county has been hurt by cutbacks in the ranks of white-collar workers who were earning solid, middle-class incomes.
“Many higher-level, professional jobs have been eliminated,” she said. “We’ve seen significant consolidation in the banking industry, layoffs in the headquarters operations in Cleveland.”
Dentler said another factor is a general decline in wages in many industries resulting from intense competition for few available jobs and the large number of unemployed and underemployed workers.
“Gluts in the labor market means businesses don’t have to pay as much,” she said. “It may be more difficult for people to find work at the salary levels they had before.”
George Zeller, a Cleveland-based economic researcher, agreed that the problem for many isn’t finding a job. It’s finding one that will pay the bills.
“There’s good news and bad news. Ohio finally has stopped losing jobs,” he said. “In that sense, the impact of the recession is finally over.
“But on the other hand, there’s a large decline in the wages.”
Zeller also agreed with Dentler that all industries have been affected by the crunch — not just manufacturing.
Zeller said his research of state employment records shows a decrease in annual earnings across the board with virtually all industries providing lower salaries and a lower average pay.
“All of the industries are cutting wages, and that’s remarkable,” he said. “You never see that.”
The combination of high unemployment and lower incomes for those with jobs has fueled a dramatic increase in poverty in Medina County. In little more than a decade, the county’s poverty rate for individuals has doubled, from 4.6 percent in 1999 to 10.2 percent in 2011, according to the census report.
Mead Wilkins, the director of Medina County Job and Family Services, said he didn’t need census statistics to know poverty was increasing.
“The number of families that qualify for food assistance has continued to grow,” he said. “We now have about 12,000 folks on food assistance in the county — that’s up from about 7,000” a half-dozen years ago.
Wilkins said the county’s newly poor don’t fit the traditional profile of poverty.
“Most of the people we see are working, but they’ve lost the better paying jobs,” he said.
The federal poverty threshold is $23,050 for a family of four.
“Most of our clients have minor children,” Wilkins said. “They’re trying to work. They have to pay for child care. They’ve got to pay for food. And they’re getting paid $9 an hour and they’re only getting 25 hours a week.”
Sandy Calvert, executive director of Feeding Medina County, said the jump in the poverty rate “in the last couple years has been a startling wake-up call for Medina County.”
Calvert said many seeking food assistance have never experienced poverty.
“These are people who, because of economic issues, are experiencing for the first time in their lives not having enough to make ends meet.”
She said many of the increasing number of people “coming out to the Medina County Fairgrounds once a month to receive food” own their own homes, cars and other hallmarks of the middle class.
“But you can’t eat your house; you can’t eat your car,” she said.
Contact David Knox at (330) 721-4065 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Here are some additional details on poverty and income levels from area counties and Ohio's most populated cities: