Census update: Inching toward pre-recession norms
The latest poverty and income data released this week by the U.S. Census showed real gains across the nation. Programs designed to help struggling people makes ends meet work. Food assistance (SNAP), the Earned Income Tax Credit, the Child Tax Credit, and heating and home assistance help millions of people live above poverty in 2016. For the first time on record, health insurance rates, poverty rates, and income levels improved across the nation at the same time, for the second year in a row. This is good news, but when we look at the details we see there is real need to expand upon this progress, not narrow it by cutting back what’s working.
Ohio also saw some meaningful improvements. Ohio had one of the lowest uninsured rates in the nation last year (tied for 13th with Pennsylvania). When the Affordable Care Act was fully implemented in 2013, 11 percent of Ohioans lacked insurance, but last year that dropped to 5.6 percent. More than 94 percent of all Ohioans had health insurance last year. The typical household income in Ohio rose last year to $52,334. In real dollars, meaning the figures account for inflation, this is an increase of about $611. This is an improvement, but in real dollars, it is still $1,611 short of what the typical household brought home the year before the recession and only good enough to rank the state 35th in the nation. A full 90 percent of Ohioans over the age of 25 had at least a high school education and 27.5 percent had a bachelor’s degree or higher. Both were statistically significant improvements from 2015 (89.7 percent and 26.8 percent, respectively).
Other measures show just how far we have to go as a state. Last year poverty stood at 14.6 percent, up 1.4 percentage points from 2007. That’s not a real change from the 14.8 percent rate in 2015, considering the margin of error. Ohio had the 19th highest poverty rate in the nation. More than 520,000 Ohio kids, over 20 percent of all children, lived in poverty last year. This is roughly unchanged from 2015 and 2 percentage points higher than in the year before the recession. Returning to state’s 2007 number would mean 25,203 fewer kids living in poverty
African-Americans were far more likely to live in poverty last year than white Ohioans. Nearly a third (31 percent) of all black Ohioans were in poverty last year, roughly the same as in 2015 and in 2007 (30.9 percent). White poverty never exceeded 12.9 percent during the last recession and is stood at 11.2 percent in 2016. The poverty rate for black Ohioans has essentially “recovered” to its pre-recession rate, yet nearly one in three African-American in Ohio live in poverty. The typical household income for black Ohioans was $25,731 less than that of white Ohioans. Poverty rates for Latino and Hispanic Ohioans were better, but similarly disparate. Last year, 24.9 percent of Latino and Hispanic people lived in poverty, roughly the same rate as in 2007. The typical Latino or Hispanic household in Ohio made $15,145 less in 2016 than the typical white household.
The census update underscores what Policy Matters Ohio called for in our State of Working Ohio report: Persistent inequality demands practical solutions. Even as we inch closer to pre-recession norms, far too many Ohioans remain in poverty. Incomes are still low and income inequality-driven by employment and opportunity discrimination hold Ohio back. We need to support the programs that have driven down the poverty rate. Programs like food assistance, tax credits for working families, and housing assistance reduce barriers Ohioans may face just because of happenstance of birth. Unions, wage and hour rules — like the minimum wage and overtime pay— and employment discrimination laws give all Ohioans basic rights at work. If we want to raise incomes, drive down poverty, and close racial disparities we should strengthen public assistance, our employment laws, and worker rights.