Household income is down $7,000 since 1999. We need everyone’s ideas.

by Doug Oplinger, Your Voice Ohio
with Rosalie Murphy, Editor-in-Chief

09/26/2018

As the rest of the nation celebrated in recent weeks that middle-class income had finally recovered from the Great Recession, there was little cause to cheer in Ohio.

Recession after recession for generations, Ohio rebounded from hard times. But not anymore. Not only has the state failed to rebound from the Great Recession — we have yet to recover from the 2001 recession.

Consider:

  • Nearly two decades ago, Ohio median household income hit its peak and since then plunged as much as $10,000 during the Great Recession and remains $6,000 below the 2000 Census. That’s money out of household pockets for car repairs, health care emergencies, food and education.
  • In the final 2017 jobs data, we see that the state is still short 152,000 jobs from its peak in 2000. That’s more jobs than there are people living in Dayton, Ohio’s sixth-largest city. The jobs decline occurred at the same time the nation’s largest generation, the millennials, came of age.
  • While the nation’s population grew 16 percent since the 2000 Census, Ohio edged up only 3 percent.
  • In Summit County, median household income is down 11 percent since 1999. In real terms, that’s $7,000.

Old methods of revitalization haven’t reversed the decline. In the most recent year for which data is available, 2015, Ohio communities allowed businesses to forgo nearly a billion dollars in property taxes to stimulate growth. But at what cost? Those are taxes that businesses would otherwise have paid for fire and police protection, schools and drug addiction services.

That raises questions: Are there new ways to stop the decline in Ohio communities? Should success be redefined? Who should act?

More than 40 TV and radio stations, daily and weekly newspapers and online news organizations, including The Devil Strip, have joined in the Your Voice Ohio project to launch conversations across the state. We’re asking Ohioans to define a vibrant economy in 2018. What makes it tick? And how can each community move in the direction of vibrancy?

Today’s story begins to set the baseline for an ongoing search for solutions by exploring the amount of dollars flowing into Ohio households. Several news outlets contributed, with journalists setting aside competitive instincts to produce economic data and talk to Ohioans.

“When they get educated, they just leave” 

Tiajuan Lewis, 68 and recently retired from the Area Agency on Aging in the Canton area, said that young people with options are leaving.

“It seems to me that the [communities] that are shrinking, it’s because the parents get their kids a really good education and then when they get educated, they just leave,” Lewis told the Canton Repository. “They give up on Ohio and just go somewhere else.”

We could change that, she said. “I would say in anybody’s community the one thing that needs to be done is that people need to accept each other for who they are…,” Lewis said. “And love each other. We breathe the same air.“

In Warren, a young businessman has another prescription.

Logan Reinard, 29, started a coffee shop in 2017 on the Trumbull County courthouse square. His county lost one of every three jobs since 1997 peak employment.

“There are a lot of reasons why some areas succeed and others don’t,” Reinard told the Warren Tribune Chronicle. “It depends what you’re surrounded by.” 

Reinard said people, especially younger people, don’t want to move into areas that aren’t surrounded by amenities they want.

Areas that have a “mindset of excellence” tend to succeed, he said.

Data analysis: Summit County residents have lost $7,000 per year since 1999

Former Akron Beacon Journal investigative journalist and data specialist David Knox, now working independently, compared historic household income data with new 2017 numbers released in September 2018.

He found that one more year offered little relief. Of the 39 counties for which data is available, 41 percent — 16 counties — declined last year.  Among those were many of Ohio’s major urban counties: Cuyahoga (Cleveland), Stark (Canton), Montgomery, Butler and Clark counties (Dayton area), and Trumbull and Mahoning (Youngstown-Warren area).

In Summit County, median household income was $55,419 in 2017. That’s an 11.2 percent drop from 1999.

In real terms, that’s $7,016.58 out of Summit County residents’ pockets each year — more than $500 per month that could have been spent on housing, education, health or supporting local businesses.

In the 1970 Census, Ohio’s median household income was 9 percent above the national number. But the state’s indicators have plummeted since then. In 2017, Ohio’s median household income was 10.5 percent below the national rate.

More than $6,000 out of Ohioans’ pockets year after year has taken a toll.

Only four counties for which this data is available have household incomes higher than they had in 1999.

They are:

  • Delaware, north of Columbus, where suburban sprawl by some of Columbus’ wealthiest has driven rising incomes. Median household income is up 8 percent from 1999 and highest among the reporting counties.
  • Athens, in rural Appalachia, is the home of Ohio University. Generally, it ranks near the bottom of the state in real income, but that income is up about 10 percent since 1999.
  • Scioto, on the Ohio River near the southern tip of the state. It has had the lowest household income in the state for multiple years, but is up 5 percent.
  • Belmont is in the heart of southeastern Ohio Appalachian country and enjoys new wealth due to natural gas exploration. Income soared the most there: 24 percent since 1999.

Although we’re well behind where we were two decades ago, median incomes in Summit County rose 4.3 percent from 2016 to 2017. Across Ohio, incomes grew 1 percent on average.

Join Your Voice Ohio to shape local news coverage of the economy

The Your Voice Ohio project will explore jobs, population, home values, quality-of-life, tax abatement and issues that Ohioans suggest we pursue.

YVO will organize community meetings in which residents take the lead, not journalists, to understand how Ohioans’ economic lives have changed and what solutions we might have.

Join Your Voice Ohio, The Devil Strip and WKSU in the Akron area:

  • Monday, Oct. 1, at Guy’s Party Center in Akron. Discussion will begin in the central ballroom at 6 pm. 500 E. Waterloo Road, Akron, 44319. Register here.
  • Tuesday, Oct. 2, at Heritage Barn in Stow. Discussion will begin at 6 pm. 5238 Young Road, Stow, 44224. Register here.

At these meetings, we will discuss the economic challenges Summit County faces, the strengths and assets in our community that could help grow the economy, and our ideas for capitalizing on those assets. We’re searching for a new definition of economic vibrancy in greater Akron — because it’s clear that the booming economy of the 1970s is no longer a workable model. 

Members of local media, including The Devil Strip and WKSU, will host and attend the meeting, listening to your stories and ideas to identify smart, shared, and sustainable solutions to the struggles facing folks across the community.

These conversations will guide our coverage of the economy in the coming months.

Doug Oplinger is the retired managing editor of the Akron Beacon Journal and now leads the Your Voice Ohio media participants. He can be emailed at doplinger@yourvoiceohio.org

Contributing to this story were David Knox; the Cleveland Plain Dealer, which paid for Knox’s data work; The Repository in Canton; and the Warren Tribune Chronicle.

Rosalie Murphy is Editor-in-Chief of The Devil Strip. Reach her at rosalie@thedevilstrip.com.

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