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Published: Wednesday, 9/29/2010

Census finds more people in poverty, fewer have health coverage

BY LARRY P. VELLEQUETTE
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER

As she heads toward retirement after 33 years with General Motors Co., Peggy McKnight-Wilson hadn't planned on having a new roommate - especially not her 18-year-old granddaughter.

"When I get ready to do things, I have to work around her, and that's an adjustment," she explained. "Now that she's there, I have to buy groceries every week. It kind of throws my plans off for retirement because she needs help."

Ms. McKnight-Wilson isn't alone locally in helping a relative in need.

New data from the U.S. Census Bureau's annual American Community Survey for 2009 shows that many area families are facing similar difficult adjustments as they struggle with the troubled economy.

In metro Toledo, poverty is up, the number of people with health care coverage is down, and more offspring apparently are moving back in with their parents or grandparents.

The 2009 figures come from the Current Population Survey and the American Community Survey, which gathers data from 3 million households. The data cover geographic areas with populations of 65,000 or more.

The number of families in the four-county metro area living in poverty has climbed from an estimated 10.3 percent in 2006 to 12.7 percent in 2009, including a 1.5 percentage point jump between 2008 and last year as the recession devastated the local economy, according to bureau estimates.

The biggest one-year jump of those in poverty occurred among married families with children under 18, the bureau said, with the percentage of households falling into that category jumping from 5.7 percent in 2008 to 8.7 percent in 2009.

Not surprisingly, the percentage of households who qualified for food assistance benefits jumped last year to 15.4 percent across the metro area, up from 11.7 percent of households receiving those emergency benefits in 2008.

Bernard Clark is among those area residents seeking assistance.

At 48, he finds himself living at the Salvation Army shelter, fighting an uphill battle to pull his life back together in the midst of the worst economic decline in Toledo since his grandfather's generation.

"It's been tough because I have two felonies," he said, looking up from a computer screen at a county agency where he was searching for a job. "But I know that there are people out there that are willing to hire, and to help."

Across the room from Mr. Clark, Alisha McGowan, 25, was faxing her fiance's resume to anyone who might consider him for a job, while her 6-year-old daughter sat in a chair and waited.

"He's been out of work for almost a year," Ms. McGowan said. "It's been so bad; there's no jobs, there's no money. We've just been trying to keep it together."

If there is anything Mr. Clark and Ms. McGowan know, it is that their situations are by no means unique, a fact backed up by the Census Bureau.

Ohio and Michigan rank 34th and 35th respectively in median household incomes in the United States, at $45,395 and $45,255 annually, far behind the $69,272 median household income in Maryland, which ranked first nationally. Metro Toledo had a median household income of $43,324 in 2009, the bureau said.

More than two-thirds of households - 67.3 percent - in the four-county metro Toledo area had a median income below $75,000 annually in 2009, compared to 68.1 percent of households nationally under that income range and 64.7 percent of Ohio households.

Metro Toledo had 44.1 percent of its households with an annual income under $50,000 in 2009, compared to 45.8 percent across Ohio and 49.8 percent nationwide, the Census Bureau reported.

Year-over-year, metro Toledo saw a statistically significant decline in two household income levels. The percentage of households with income between $75,000 and $100,000 fell from 11.5 percent to 10.3 percent, while the number of households with annual income in excess of $200,000 dropped from 2.2 percent to 1.7 percent, the bureau said.

"The economy bottomed out in June 2009, but there's some solace in that it's getting better," said economist Ken Mayland, of Clearview Economics in suburban Cleveland.

"The Great Recession hit manufacturing hard in general, and it clobbered the auto industry. All of that has economic fallout for the people that lose their jobs, or their lives are put on hold because they've lost their jobs. And it is something that's rippled across the economy."

Metro Toledo saw statistically significant declines in just two sectors of the local labor force between 2008 and 2009, as manufacturing employment fell from 15.9 to 14.1 percent year-over-year, while information workers declined from 1.8 to 1.1 percent of the total work force.

A number of sectors experienced growth in the percentage of local workers employed in those jobs, including arts, recreation and food service, as well as education, health care, and social assistance workers.

The new figures show a dramatic increase in the percentage of people without health insurance coverage across metro Toledo, climbing from an estimated 10.4 percent of the population in 2008 to 12.3 percent in 2009.

The 12.3 percent exceeds the national rate of uninsured, the bureau said.

In housing, the bureau found a growing number of metro Toledo homeowners who no longer have mortgages.

Between 2008 and 2009 the percentage of those without monthly mortgages grew from 29.4 to 32.1 percent.

Ironically, the number of metro Toledoans living with their own grandchildren grew dramatically in 2009, while the percentage of those grandparents responsible for tending to their cohabiting grandchildren dropped.

Bureau officials said the statistic is showing up nationally as well because job losses and foreclosures have resulted in more three-generation households where out-of-work parents care for their own children.

Among the national findings of the bureau's 2009 survey:

•The poorest poor are at record highs. The share of Americans below half the poverty line - $10,977 for a family of four - rose from 5.7 percent in 2008 to 6.3 percent. It was the highest level since the government began tracking that group in 1975.

•The poverty gap between young and old has doubled since 2000, partly because of Social Security's strength in helping buoy Americans 65 and over. Child poverty is now 21 percent compared with 9 percent for older Americans. In 2000, when child poverty was at 16 percent, elderly poverty stood at 10 percent.

•Safety nets are helping fill health gaps. The percentage of children covered by government-sponsored health insurance such as Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program jumped to 37 percent, or 27.6 million, from 24 percent in 2000. That helped offset steady losses in employer-sponsored insurance.

The 2009 poverty level was set at $21,954 for a family of four, based on an official government calculation that includes only cash income. It excludes noncash aid such as food stamps.

On a national level, the new figures show, among other things, that marriages fell to a record low level in 2009, with just 52 percent of adults 18 and over saying they were joined in wedlock, compared with 57 percent in 2000.

Many young people, at the same time, struggled to find work and achieve economic independence.

Information from The Blade's news services was used in this report.

Contact Larry P. Vellequette at:

lvellequette@theblade.com

or 419-724-6091.



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