Census: Area Closer to Poverty

Cincinnati Enquirer - August 30, 2006
   

Cincinnati Enquirer

Poverty increased in Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky between 1999 and 2005, while median incomes rose at less than the national average in all but two local counties, new Census Bureau estimates released Tuesday show.

It’s another bad economic sign for the region, which has seen its jobless rate exceed the nation’s since 2005.

Nationally, the poverty rate was virtually unchanged at 12.6 percent last year, compared with 2004, according to the census survey, based on a sample of 100,000 homes nationally.

Federal poverty guidelines include 48 groups. The simplest is the single person under 65 with no children to support: below $10,160 is poverty. A family of four, with two children under 18, is considered living in poverty below $19,806.

Cincinnati ranked as the nation’s eighth-poorest big city, as 25 percent of residents fell below the poverty line. Cleveland ranked first.

Even in fast-growing Butler County, the poverty rate jumped last year to 12.4 percent from 8.7 percent in 1999.

That comes as no surprise to Jeff Diver, executive director of Butler County SELF, Supports to Encourage Low-income Families.

“There is no countywide transit service, so despite the tremendous increase in new jobs in places like West Chester, people in need of jobs here in Hamilton have no way to get to the jobs,” he said.

So far this year, the agency has provided help to 11,644 individuals.

POVERTY UP, PAY GROWTH SLOWS

Even though he recently got a raise to just under $20 an hour, Norris Everspaugh, 56, of Hamilton doesn’t think he’s better off financially than he was in 1999.

Everspaugh, who works for the West Chester road department and has three grown children, helps support one of his sons and his wife who have three small kids of their own. “He only makes minimum wage in his warehouse job, and I help him out,” the father said.

Others in Ohio and Kentucky may feel the same as Everspaugh, in light of the new Census Bureau estimates.

Personal income in Ohio grew slower than the national rate, the new estimates showed. More people were living below the poverty level in 2005 than in 1999.

In Kentucky, the percentage of people with poverty-level earnings reached one in six last year, and the gap between Kentucky’s per capita income and the nation’s widened.

But Cincinnati was depicted on an even more downhill slope. Income growth barely budged from 1999 to 2005, and 25 percent of city residents fell below the poverty line, up from 21.9 percent in 1999.

The findings were part of the agency’s latest report on income, poverty and health insurance coverage in America. Median U.S. household income rose 1.1 percent to $46,326 from 2004 to 2005, while the national poverty rate held steady at 12.6 percent. The percentage of Americans without health insurance rose from 15.6 percent to 15.9 percent.

Here’s what the report had to say about Ohio, Kentucky and Greater Cincinnati:

Thirteen percent of Ohioans are below the poverty level, up from 10.6 percent in 1999. The percentage of Kentuckians in poverty rose from 15.8 percent in 1999 to 16.8 percent in 2005. To determine poverty, the Census Bureau calculates a family’s income in relation to its size and composition. For example, a family of three, including one child under 18, with an annual income of $14,000 would be considered under the poverty threshold of $15,423.

Aside from Cincinnati, Campbell County had the highest poverty rate in the region – 13.9 percent, up from 9.3 percent in 1999. Warren County had the lowest at 5.1 percent, although that was up from 4.2 percent in 1999.

Ohio’s per capita income rose 11 percent, from $21,003 in 1999 to $23,322 in 2005, while Kentucky’s rose 13.6 percent during the same period, from $18,093 to $20,551. U.S. per capita income rose 16 percent during that time frame, from $21,578 to $25,035.

In the region, Warren County had the highest per capita income – $29,211 – and the biggest percentage increase in per capita income – 14.5 percent. Cincinnati had the lowest on both counts: Per capita income of $20,593 in 2005 and a 3.2 percent increase since 1999.

Amy Hanauer, executive director of Cleveland-based think-tank Policy Matters Ohio, called Ohio’s numbers disappointing. “We’re supposed to be five years into a recovery from recession, and we should see better wage and income growth,” Hanauer said.

“Because we’ve had poor job growth in this state, it makes it hard for people to get raises.”

The data also represented another slap for the city of Cincinnati. In June, Census estimates gave the Queen City the dubious distinction of having lost more residents – 6.8 percent – in the last five years than any other city with a population of at least 100,000. The city’s 25 percent poverty rate is the eighth worst in the nation. Cleveland’s 32.4 percent is the worst.

“Cincinnati has been showing up as one of the most stressed cities in other respects, and this (higher poverty rate) continues that pattern,” said James Rubenstein, a Miami University geography professor who specializes in urban planning. “More people are moving out of there, and Cincinnati is not getting that back-to-the-city movement that other cities in the country are getting.”

The stagnant income growth and higher poverty rate in Hamilton County are manifested in the increase in food stamp recipients served by the Hamilton County Department of Job and Family Services. Even when people are employed, said agency spokesman Brian Gregg, they still need assistance.

“We had a monthly average of 50,846 food stamp recipients in 2000,” he said. “Right now, as of the second quarter of 2006, we have 77,230.”

Higher heating and cooling costs are a big reason for more demand in services at the Hamilton County Community Agency, said Gwen Robinson, president.

Her agency has helped 10,000 families so far this year with heating and cooling aid compared with about 8,000 through the same period last year.

Ohio voters will decide in November whether or not to raise the state’s minimum wage from $4.25 an hour – which is less than the federal minimum of $5.15 – to $6.85. Amy Rohling McGee, executive director of the Ohio Association of Free Clinics and co-chair of the Campaign to Protect Ohio’s Future, said she wasn’t surprised by the increase in Ohio’s poverty rate.

“Nonprofit organizations, such as food pantries and free clinics, have continued to see increases in the numbers of people who are seeking their services and are stretched to the breaking point,” she said

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