September 19, 2013
Columbus residents generally had more money in their pockets in 2012 than the year before, reversing a multiyear slide in income.
Median household income in Columbus showed more improvement than in Franklin County, in Ohio and in the nation on a percentage basis, jumping 6.5 percent, or more than $2,600, in 2012 from the previous year. But the median is still more than $1,000 below where it was in 2009, and more than $3,000 under its 2008 level.
“There’s always a floor to anything,” said James Newton, an independent economic analyst in Columbus formerly with Commerce National Bank. “So you can only fall so far before you hit bottom and come back. Obviously, Columbus has done that.”
But Columbus’ median household income of $43,207 — equivalent to a single worker making $20.77 an hour for a 40-hour-per-week job — was way below the national average. Franklin County’s median was up 4.5 percent to just under $50,100, and Ohio’s was up less than half a percent to just over $46,800, according to U.S. Census numbers released today as part of the annual American Community Survey. Nationally, the numbers barely budged: up about $50, to $51,371.
Median household income — the combined incomes of everyone older than 14 in a household, including all salaries, retirement payments, food stamps and investment gains — is considered a good general measure of the health of an economy, Newton said. It shows the number where half of households have higher incomes and half have lower. What it doesn’t tell you is whether that income was derived from one wage earner or several, or how many children that income must support.
“You’d have to dig a good bit deeper to get any particular meaning,” Newton said.
But that money will eventually find its way into purchases of cheeseburgers, tires and other items, boosting businesses and spurring more hiring, said Kenny McDonald, chief economic officer of Columbus 2020.
More hiring means even more household income.
“It begins to turn the flywheel for the community,” McDonald said.
The percentage of people living below the poverty line dropped in Columbus from 23.2 percent in 2011 to 21.8 percent last year, but that was still significantly above the national level of
15.9 percent, a figure that held steady from the previous year. The latest number of children younger than 5 living below the poverty line was 34.5 percent in Columbus, down slightly.
“Job growth doesn’t solve complex poverty problems, unfortunately, but it certainly doesn’t make the problem worse,” McDonald said.
His group calculates that the 11-county Columbus region has added up to 58,000 new jobs since January 2010 — growth McDonald called “kind of unprecedented.”
But Renuka Mayadev, executive director of Children’s Defense Fund-Ohio, said the rising median income is deceiving, caused by top earners doing better while extreme poverty increases. The number of children living in extreme poverty, defined as living on an amount less than half the poverty threshold — or $11,746 for a family of four — is up in Ohio. More than 308,000 children in Ohio are extremely poor, an increase of 1.8 percent, the data show.
The number of children in extreme poverty in Columbus was up 1.2 percent, to around 29,500.
“We’ve seen large increases in economic inequality over the last 30 or 40 years, and this is proof of what the community is facing,” Mayadev said.
She also noted that 50.1 percent of black children in Ohio live in poverty, compared with 17.2 percent of white children.
The percentage of people without health insurance stayed roughly the same in Columbus, at 15.7 percent, and in Franklin County, at 13.6 percent. Statewide and nationally, the percentage dropped slightly.
The 2013 health-insurance numbers, released next year, are “where things really will get interesting,” Newton said, as provisions of the federal Affordable Care Act take effect.