Ohio Incomes Jump; 2 Parents Working on More Families

Akron Beacon Journal - June 4, 2002

The Akron Beacon Journal

By Keith McKnight, Katie Byard and David Knox

A dose of prosperity, plus a marked increase in the number of homes in which both parents joined the work force, drove up the median family income for Ohioans in the past decade to about 10 percent beyond the inflation rate.

Data released Monday by the U.S. Census Bureau covering social, economic and housing characteristics show that in Summit County alone the number of families earning more than $100,000 a year more than tripled from 7,089 in 1989 to 24,697 in 1999.

However rosy that picture, though, it came at a cost to parents who were forced to spend less time with their children to earn the extra money.

And it all played out against a 1980s backdrop of economic misery that pushed the median family income of 1989 to levels below those reported a decade earlier.

“A lot of the growth in the ’90s was making up for big declines in the ’80s,” said Amy Hanauer, executive director of Policy Matters Ohio, a Cleveland economic research institute.

In fact, adjusted for inflation, Stark County’s median family income from 1979 to 1999 was essentially unchanged — from $39,606 to $39,824, an increase of only 0.5 percent in 20 years.

By 1989, Stark’s household income had slid to $36,148, a drop of 8.7 percent.
For the same period, 1979 to 1989,Medina was the only county in the region to register an increase, 1.9 percent, while Summit County slipped 3.7 percent, Portage 1.8 percent and Wayne 1.1 percent.

“It’s always great when incomes go up,” Hanauer said, yet she added that “1999 is the peak of the longest, strongest economic expansion in recorded history, so it is not surprising that the 1999 (income) numbers would be stronger than (those for) the previous decades.”

Statewide, Ohio’s data show the state moved up from the 25th to the 23rd position nationwide, passing Vermont and Pennsylvania for a median household income of $40,956, an increase of 9.9 percent.

But many states did better.

In the midst of prosperity, Ohio ranked only 30th among the 50 states in its percentage of income increase.

Likewise, statewide, Monday’s data show a decline in virtually every category the census uses to measure the number of those living in poverty. The decline is perhaps to be expected of a period of plunging unemployment and a shriveling welfare system.

Yet Monday’s numbers are reassuring only when viewed in isolation.

Compared to the data of two decades ago, the percentage of poor statewide actually has increased from 10.3 percent in 1979 to 10.6 percent in 1999.

During that same 20-year period in the Akron-Canton area, the increase was even greater, with the poor climbing from 9.4 percent to 9.9 percent in Summit County and from 8.5 percent to 9.2 percent in Stark County.

In the middle of that two-decade span — 1989 — the rate had soared to 11.1 percent in Stark and 12.1 percent in Summit.

Numbers are people

Behind the numbers, though, are the faces they represent.

And Norma Carmichael is one.

She lives in Akron and, at 26, is a high school dropout, a single mother of three children younger than 10 and works part time for $6 an hour as a cashier in a service station.
Her life, she says, is “hectic.”

She gets food stamps, free medical care, subsidized housing and, fortunately, has relatives who are willing to baby-sit while she’s at work.

And yes, she’s glad to be working and off welfare, yet the prospect of a diploma or a better-paying, full-time job seems to be beyond her reach.

She wants to work full time because she needs the money.

Yet as the only adult at home to nurture her children, a full-time job doesn’t seem to be something she can afford.

Last week, sitting on the steps outside her apartment, taking in some morning sun before heading to the service station, Carmichael found no comfort glancing at her neighbors’ apartments and realizing that she was not alone.

“There’s a lot of people that aren’t doing good,” she said. “There’s a lot of people just making it.”

For Greg Pramuka, a 44-year-old Barberton machinist, husband and father of two teen-age boys during the ’90s, those years were financially better than the ’80s at their house.
There were opportunities for overtime, he said — opportunities he took advantage of to bring more money home.

So he and his wife were in the census category “all parents in family in labor force.”

Figures from that category grew from 54.6 percent in 1989 to 62.1 percent in 1999 in Ohio.
Even with the extra time at work, though, Pramuka is not so sure the wages they brought home kept pace with inflation.

Yes, their household income is more than the $32,178 median for Barberton, “but even with two of us working,” he said, “you never have money.”

His wife, Shirley, is 45 and works about 30 hours a week these days as a grocery store cashier.

A year ago, she was putting in about 20 to 25 hours a week at another job.

But for Shirley Pramuka, even with the prosperous ’90s, it should come as no surprise that the census for the past decade showed growing numbers of households with both parents holding down jobs and putting in more hours to bring home more money.

To her, it’s a matter of simple math.

“You have to because, along with wages, prices go up,” she said. “It’s a vicious cycle.”
In earlier times, she said, families could afford to have a sole wage-earner because, then, even big items were priced within reach of the middle class.

“You could buy a really laid-out house for what you pay for a car now,” she said.
Hanauer, of the Cleveland research group, tends to agree.

“People are working more. Families are working more,” she said, yet individuals and families can work only so many additional hours to pull up their incomes, so “there is a limit to the potential for (income) growth for putting in more hours… particularly for people with kids.”

Diane Breiding of Norton knows about the extra-hours scenario.

She is director of Downtown Barberton Inc., a nonprofit revitalization group, and manages Snowball Books, which her sister, Linda Snowball, started in Barberton in 1995.

“When Linda opened the store, I went to full time and now work 50 to 55 hours a week,” she said.

But the extra money comes in handy because she and her husband, a machinist, have two daughters in college.

Boom goes bust

The expansive economy of the ’90s didn’t last, a fact that tempers the uplifting snapshot offered by Monday’s census numbers.

By the end of the Clinton administration, months after the April 2000 census collected income data for 1999, the economy had begun to sour.

So George Zeller, senior researcher for the Council for Economic Opportunities of Greater Cleveland, says the data released Monday are “already obsolete.” The recession that kicked in after the census figures were taken is still in full force, he says.

According to Zeller, Ohio has lost at least 77,743 jobs since the census work was done and claims for unemployment have risen steadily.

“If this recession was over,” he said, “we still wouldn’t have 10 weeks in a row of increases in unemployment claims.”

Lisa Ausperk is likewise aware of the economy of the ’90s and the slack that followed.

At 39, she and her husband, Charles, live in a large, relatively new log home on a 2-acre site adjacent to the Towpath Trail in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park in Boston Township.

They built it in 1997 when the economy was booming.

During that time, she said, lots of others built new homes in nearby Boston Heights, a village that, according to the census, registered a population jump of nearly 62 percent within the decade.

But times have changed, and the Ausperks have noticed.

Charles Ausperk owns Valley Rubbish, a firm that hauls debris from construction sites.
The ’90s were busy times for them.

But now, Lisa says, “it’s just slow. We’re still working, but usually this time of year we’re extremely busy. This is our big season.”

Lisa Ausperk works at home keeping the books and doing secretarial work for the company.

Recently, though, she said she reduced her own pay, and she and her husband and their four children have cut back on “doing extra stuff — boating, camping, vacations,” opting instead to spend more time at home.

“The ’90s were good,” she said. “I wish they’d come back.”

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