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Published: Wednesday, 4/30/2008

Toledo-area cities lose ground on income

BY TED FACKLER
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER

Metro Toledo and other major cities in northwest Ohio fell further behind the United States average in per-capita income in the past six years, new Census Bureau figures show.

Toledo's $32,209 average in 2006, the latest figures available, rose 16 percent since 2000, but nationally the figure jumped 27 percent to $36,714. The growth locally ranged from Norwalk's 9 percent, to $26,432, to Sandusky's 20 percent, to $34,292.

Even Monroe, the only Michigan community in the Toledo region, began 2000 with a higher per-capita figure than the national average but ended 2006 up just 11 percent at $35,521 and well behind the national rate.

Some communities, such as Defiance, Norwalk, and Van Wert had two years during the six-year period in which per-capita figures decreased, Census records show.

Experts cite the loss of high-paying automotive positions, weaker unions, and high unemployment as contributing to the slow growth.

"The principal contributor to Toledo's subpar gains has been the loss of relatively high-wage jobs in the auto industry," said Richard DeKaser, chief economist with National City Bank in Cleveland. Also to blame are lower-wage jobs that have not had healthy increases, he said.

"A lot of these larger smokestack industries with large union representation have been on the less fortunate end of wage negotiations," said Mr. DeKaser. In recent years, many unions have accepted wage freezes or restrictions to help pay for health insurance and other benefits.

For example, workers at Dana Holding Corp. took pay and benefit cuts over the past two years as the Toledo auto-parts maker made adjustments to emerge from bankruptcy.

The bureau picked 10 metropolitan areas in the Toledo region for the study. Overall, the local area's per-capita growth has been stunted, more so than that nationwide, experts said. Also contributing is the relatively high unemployment rate for Toledo, averaging above 7 percent for the six-year period.

"Ohio has lost a lot of jobs, and Toledo is part of that," said George Morkzan, a chief economist at Huntington Bank, Columbus. "That's the biggest issue."

Many businesses have cut overtime, and some people's second jobs were eliminated. Some corporations consolidated operations, further cutting local jobs. Elsewhere in the country, however, pay levels were rising or investment returns were increasing, boosting per-capita income.

Mr. Morkzan said "wage numbers can turn around" at companies that focus on exporting more products.

Contact Ted Fackler at:

tfackler@theblade.com

or 419-724-6199.



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