December 18, 2014

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Lorain County poverty rate up, medium income down

poverty statisticsHard times continue for many Lorain and Lorain County residents.

New U.S. Census Bureau statistics showed poverty increased while household income and home values decreased since the start of the Great Recession in December of 2007. Poverty increased from 12.5 percent in 2008 to 14.4 percent last year in the county. Lorain’s rate rose from 25.4 percent to 27.8 percent. The national poverty rate was 15 percent last year.

The county median household income dropped from $56,343 in 2008 to $49,131 last year, a 12.8 percent decrease. Lorain’s median dropped from $37,264 in 2008 to $33,940 last year, a nearly 9 percent decline. Lorain and the county both trail the national median of $51,017.

Home values also plummeted after the foreclosure crisis tied to risky Wall Street derivatives trading that caused the 2008 financial crash. The county median home value dropped from $156,763 in 2008 to 136,500 last year, a nearly 13 percent decrease.

While the housing market has started to rebound nationally, Lorain and Lorain County lag behind. One in every 432 homes was in foreclosure in Lorain in June, according to Realty Trac, a real estate website. The county rate was one in 567, far higher than the Ohio rate of one in 648 and the national rate of one in every 1,025. The statistics are for cities or counties with populations of about 65,000 and higher.

Behind every statistic is a story. Like Kathleen Benton of Lorain.

Benton, a 38-year-old mother of five, said she lost her job as a McDonald’s restaurant manager in 2008 after contracting meningitis, a potentially life-threatening infection that can cause swelling of the brain or spine. Benton said she relies on Medicaid for her medical bills and food stamps and food pantries to eat.

But not everyone is struggling. The Census Bureau statistics found the richest 5 percent of Americans – households making more than $191,000 annually – have recovered their losses since the recession, while the bottom 80 percent is earning considerably less than their pre-recession incomes. Benton said there is a disconnect between the haves and have nots.

“If you are upper middle class to higher income, you have no clue what it’s like,” Benton said. “You don’t know what it’s like to eat macaroni and cheese for your meal because that’s all there is in the cupboard.”

Jackie Boehnlein, Lorain County Community Action Agency CEO and president, also sees a lack of understanding by Congress of the effect of cutting stimulus programs and implementing widespread federal budget cuts. While the Congressional Budget office on Tuesday reported the deficit is expected to shrink from to $642 billion by Sept. 30 compared to $1 trillion last year, Congressional Republicans are threatening a government shutdown and allowing to nation to default if more cuts — including food stamps reductions — aren’t made.

Boehnlein, whose agency serves about 18,000 people annually, said some clients are working full or part-time jobs, but still struggling to survive. Boehnlein acknowledged the need to control spending, but said austerity is wrong in a time of continued high unemployment and wage stagnation.

“I question where our priorities are as a country,” she said. “It isn’t that people don’t want to work. It’s that there isn’t work available or there isn’t work that would support a family.”

Contact Evan Goodenow at 329-7129 or egoodenow@chroniclet.com.