April 16, 2014

Elyria
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Census survey data: County getting older, poorer

The population of Lorain County is growing.

Families are facing poverty.

Married couples make up the majority of households.

And three out of four Lorain County residents were born in Ohio.

Such tidbits from the latest U.S. Census Bureau American Community Survey, which was released Tuesday, offer a snapshot at the county over a five-year period based on data collected from Jan. 1, 2005, to Dec. 31, 2009.

Within the data are demographic details of communities in America, including smaller cities, villages and townships. The searchable report can be found at www.census.gov/acs/www.

“The ACS complements the decennial count and provides estimates of population characteristics that are more detailed than the basic demographic information that will be released from the 2010 Census, which will be available starting in February,” the bureau said in a statement this week.

All the information in the survey is good to know, however, unless it’s put into context, it offers little benefit to municipalities, said Shara Davis, director of the Joint Center for Policy Research and Public Services Institute at Lorain County Community College.

“Just looking at the information is kind of like asking the question ‘So what?’ ” she said. “You need to add context to see if there is an increase or decrease over years. Only then can cities utilize this information to drive their planning and problem solving.”

Mayor Bill Grace said information taken from the survey and similar compilations of data gives an accurate look at the changing landscape of Elyria.

“We are getting older and poorer,” he said. “The median household income is going down while the average age of residents is going up.”

The most recent survey puts the median age at 36.8 years old with 14 percent of the population older than 65. The median household income is listed as $41,784.

The 2005-07 American Community Survey listed the median age as 35.3 years old. Median income at the time for the city was $42,318.

The assessment of an older, poorer community coincides with trends being seen in recent years by the United Way of Greater Lorain County, which uses statistical data to determine where its resources should be focused.

“Currently, a little over 50 percent of funds we distribute go toward programs that provide basic human needs like food, clothing and shelter in the community,” executive director William Harper said.

And, while many of the programs are in cities like Elyria and Lorain, Harper said the eastern suburbs of the county are facing their own struggles.

“Food pantries are seeing an increase in families from Avon, Avon Lake and North Ridgeville,” Harper said. “These are families that have not been coming for help before.”

Those communities have measurable levels of poverty, according to the survey, with Avon at 6 percent, North Ridgeville at 3 percent and Avon Lake’s rate of families living in poverty at 1 percent.

The 2005-07 American Community Survey could not list a poverty rate for Avon Lake for that time period because the sample size was too low.

However, Harper said, the news is not all bad. When examined alone, Lorain County may seem to be on the decline, but when compared to similar areas, Lorain County is doing a lot better than other communities.

“Our kind of poverty is nothing like what is seen in Appalachian communities is southern Ohio counties,” he said. “I spent a number of years there as a social worker and encountered families living in far worse conditions.”

Examining several surveys provides cities with a way to chart progress over years, Davis said. However, the Census survey is at best an estimate that admittedly has a sometimes-huge margin of error.

“You can get good countywide data and data about the largest cities, but the further down the geographical map you go, the information becomes less reliable,” she said. “Still, it’s good to have and much better than waiting on the decennial census, which comes out every 10 years. Before communities had to wait a decade for information because the U.S. Census did not do these type of annual surveys.”

Readers of the survey also can learn statistical facts about even the smallest subdivisions in Lorain County.

In Sheffield, more than 89 percent of residents have stayed in the area for longer than a year. Of the homes in the village, 57 percent are owned either with or without mortgages.  Just 6.5 percent of homes in the village were reportedly vacant during that time.

In Grafton, housing statistics are close to that of Sheffield with 58 percent of homes being owned either with or without mortgages. However, just 63 percent of residents during the data collection period lived in the area for longer than a year and just 2 percent of homes were reported as vacant.

Also in Grafton, 89 percent of its residents drive to work on trips that take on average 23.6 minutes and ended up at sales, office or management jobs.

Contact Lisa Roberson at 329-7121 or lroberson@chroniclet.com.