A mixed picture of poverty

A mixed picture of poverty

This is one of my favorite times of year, perhaps for one of the worst reasons that could ever be imagined. Sure, the football nice and the crisp evenings are enjoyable. Some people enjoy the pumpkin-spiced everything and warm apple cider. As for me, one of the real reasons to get excited for this time of year is the release of data from the Census Bureau of their American Community Survey data. Yippee!

The American Community Survey is a relatively new program that replaced the long-form census documents that some households would get every ten years. Periodically, the Census Bureau sends out a survey to households and aggregates the data every year and releases the information the following fall. The Census Bureau is cautious to note that these data sets are just estimates. But, the data is released annually, so there is more of a “real time” aspect to the data than the former once-a-decade release.

One of the aspects that the data really dives into is poverty and the latest release of this data shows a mixed picture of how poverty exists here in Miami County.

Over the past five years, if it feels like your own paycheck hasn’t grown much, don’t feel alone. From the period from 2009 to 2014, the Median Household Income in Miami County has grown at a pretty microscopic rate from $49,222 to $51,078. That is less than $400 a year; an annualized growth of 0.7 percent.

Perhaps even more striking is the percentage of households that are bringing in less than $10,000 a year. In 2010, 3.4 percent of our county’s households were at this level of extreme poverty. In 2014, 5.7 percent of households are now brining in less than $850 a month. Conversely, the percentage of households earning more than $100,000 per year also increased. In 2010, 13 percent of our county residents were bringing in six-figure incomes and by 2014, that figure increased to 17 percent. An increase in both the percentages of lower earners and higher earners could be showing that income disparities are happening right here in Miami County.

The poverty rate for our residents show a mixed picture. In general, the poverty rate for all residents have decreased. From 12.5 percent in 2010 to 10.5 percent in 2014, we have gone from 1 in 8 people in poverty to about 1 in 10 people in poverty — certainly, a small step in the right direction. Yet, poverty in our county’s youngest residents have increased. In 2010, 10.1 percent of our county’s youngsters were in poverty; now nearly 1 in 6 kids in Miami County lives in poverty.

Even though these numbers look discouraging, there are other numbers that show improvement. The unemployment rate reported by the survey showed in 2010 that 1 in 10 county residents in the labor market were unemployed, that rate drastically was reduced in 3.8 percent by 2014. Perhaps even more surprising was where those jobs were created. In 2010, 22.7 percent of all county workers were employed in the manufacturing sector. By 2014, that percentage actually rose to 29.1 percent. The educational and health care service sector saw the largest decrease in employment share. From over 22 percent in 2010 to 16 percentby 2014. It didn’t seem like it was that long ago when many people were saying that manufacturing was dead and healthcare was going to be the next great employer of the masses; those predictions may come true in the future, but the facts don’t seem to be true as of yet.

Perhaps the one set of data that really caught my eye is the number of two worker households with children between ages 6-17. As you might imagine this number is high. In 2010, 71 percent of households with kids had two workers. In 2014, the number grew to 75.7 percent. The one-worker household is quickly becoming a novelty of the past.

What does all this mean? Well, the patterns the data show are certainly worrisome. While poverty is going down, its effects are still hitting our county’s children very, very hard. Income levels are growing at both ends of the spectrum. There are more people living in extreme poverty, yet more people are becoming affluent. These are certainly interesting times.

William (Bill) Lutz

Contributing Columnist

William (Bill) Lutz is executive director of The New Path Inc. He can be reached at blutz@ginghamsburg.org.