Poverty rates remain higher and household incomes lower than they were a few years ago, while income inequality is widening. That's another sign that a weak economic recovery still hasn't lifted most families in Ohio and the nation.
Median household income in Ohio, adjusted for inflation, fell to $44,648 a year in 2011 from $47,333 in 2010, the Census Bureau reported this week. Nationwide, median income fell for the fourth straight year, from $50,831 in pre-recession 2007 to $50,054 last year.
Still, U.S. poverty rates, after three straight years of increases, leveled off at 15.0 percent in 2011. In Ohio, the poverty rate dipped 0.3 percentage points to 15.1 percent, but more than 1.7 million Ohioans continue to live in poverty.
A slow, steady increase in full-time private-sector jobs kept Ohio's poverty rate from rising last year, said Hannah Halbert of Policy Matters Ohio. Still, even with its tiny decrease, Ohio's poverty rate is nearly 5 percent higher than it was a decade earlier.
In another sliver of good news, the number of Americans without health insurance dropped by 1.3 million in 2011. That's partly the result of a growing number of people covered by Medicare and Medicaid, as well as a provision in the Affordable Care Act that enables adult children under the age of 26 to stay on their parents' health insurance plan.
The share of uninsured 19- to 25-year-olds dropped last year by 2.2 percent, the Census Bureau said. The rate of private health insurance didn't fall for the first time in a decade.
The Census Bureau report reflects a recovering but still-ailing economy, with entrenched poverty and growing inequality. For the nation's politicians and policy makers, it underscores the need not only to create jobs but also to sustain a strong safety net and continue rather than roll back health-care reform.
Republicans, led by presidential nominee Mitt Romney, who seek to repeal Obamacare have yet to offer a better alternative to a program that helped provide the only good news in the latest Census report.
More than 46 million Americans live below the poverty line, defined by the government as a family of four earning less than $23,021 a year. Food stamps put 3.9 million people above the poverty line last year. The Earned Income Tax Credit did the same for nearly 6 million people.
As usual, overall gains in income flowed to the top. The wealthiest 5 percent of Americans gained an average 5.3 percent in income last year. Everyone else stayed the same or lost ground.
The nation's growing inequality will continue to hamper an economic recovery that depends on the earning power and spending habits of millions of middle-income workers.
Recovery in Ohio and the rest of the country will depend on more good-paying jobs, along with health-care reform that broadens coverage and a safety net for those the economy continues to leave behind.