ELYRIA — U.S. Census Bureau data released today shows that the number of people living below the federal poverty line in Lorain County between 2010 and 2014 is higher than it was in the five previous years.
Between 2005 and 2009, the poverty rate was 12.6 percent in the county, while between 2010 and 2014, the figure had grown to 14.6 percent, the Census Bureau reported. Lorain County remains below the statewide poverty rate of 15.9 percent over the past five years and the national poverty rate of 15.6 percent in the same time frame.
The information is the first time the Census Bureau has provided such statistics in five-year blocks that allow larger trends to be seen, according to a news release from the federal agency.
Mike Longo, director of the Lorain County Workforce Development Agency, said the drop in household income and the rise in poverty can be attributed to the Great Recession when “the economy bombed.”
The most recent yearly poverty rate for the county, for 2014, was 14.8 percent, figures released by the Census Bureau in September showed. That was up from 14.6 percent in 2013.
Jackie Boehnlein, executive director of the Lorain County Community Action Agency, said the figures didn’t come as a surprise to her although they trouble her because it means people aren’t able to pay for essentials, including food.
“No one should be hungry in Lorain County. No one,” she said.
The county’s median household income has also been on the downswing, according to the figures. Between 2005 and 2009, the median household income was $57,357, but it dropped by 8.3 percent to $52,610 between 2010 and 2014.
Boehnlein said the decline in the number of jobs that pay a living wage has led to a larger number of people not earning enough to cover their expenses.
“They’re working just as hard, it’s just the living-wage jobs are becoming less and less common,” she said.
Longo said he’s hopeful that incomes will soon begin to climb again because some employers are having trouble finding workers, which usually leads to wage growth.
The highest poverty rate was in Lorain, which saw a jump from 24.4 percent in the first five-year period to 28.2 percent between 2010 and 2014. The census figures from September showed the city dropped from a poverty rate of 30.1 percent in 2013 to 25.6 percent last year.
The median household income in Lorain went from $39,894 between 2005 and 2009 to $35,330 between 2010 and 2014, something Mayor Chase Ritenauer attributed to the economic troubles that plagued the rest of the nation.
He said Lorain was especially hard hit because of the decline in manufacturing and the accompanying loss of higher-paying jobs. That in turn has led to budget woes for the city, which has seen income tax collections drop and is facing a deficit next year.
“It just shows you the long shadow of the recession,” Ritenauer said.
Virtually every other community in the county saw median household incomes drop as well.
Elyria, for instance, saw household income drop from $46,106 to $42,272. The city also had a poverty rate that climbed from 15.9 percent to 20.3 percent. Avon, which between 2005 and 2009 had the county’s highest median income of $89,542, plunged 12 percent to $78,839 in the second five-year period.
“We weren’t immune from it,” Avon Mayor Bryan Jensen said. “We weathered it better than some other communities.”
The drop was so bad in Rochester and Rochester Township, where the reported median household income went from $80,713 to $48,409, that Rochester Township Trustee Amy Szmania said she didn’t think the figures could possibly be accurate. She said she doubts the 871 people listed as living in the area by the Census Bureau had a median household income that reached the $80,000 mark even before the recession.
“It surprises me that would be the amount for that time because it seems so high,” she said, adding that many people in her area are retired or living on a fixed income.
The news wasn’t entirely bad for every community. Columbia, Elyria and Penfield townships all saw their median household incomes rise.
In Columbia Township, the figures increased from $69,985 between 2005 and 2009 to $71,006 between 2010 and 2014.
Township Trustee Mike Musto said he was pleased by the figure, which he believes can be attributed to growth in the township and an influx of new residents. But he also noted that the township continues to suffer the effects of the Great Recession like everywhere else.
“Nobody in the area is up to where they were in 2008,” Musto said. “We fell so far it’s taking a long time to get back.”
Sheffield Lake, for instance, saw its median household income drop 19.2 percent, from $59,552 in the first five years to $48,142 for the years between 2010 and 2014.
Mayor Dennis Bring said he believes a lot of that drop can be attributed to people moving into rental properties after they lost their homes during the foreclosure crisis that accompanied the Great Recession.
In Sheffield Lake, the number of owner-occupied homes fell from 75.3 percent between 2005 and 2009 to 71.6 percent between 2010 and 2014. Those figures are similar to the countywide drop in the percentage of owner-occupied homes, which fell from 74.8 percent to 71.7 percent.
There also was a corresponding drop in the median value of owner-occupied homes across most of the county. That figure went from $160,769 between 2005 and 2009 to $138,000 between 2010 and 2014, a loss of 14.2 percent.
County Auditor Craig Snodgrass said although he tracks home valuations differently than the Census Bureau, both the decrease in owner-occupied homes and in the median value were a result of the Great Recession and the foreclosure crisis.
Many people who lost their jobs were unable to pay their mortgages and then lost their homes to foreclosure, Snodgrass said.
“People were losing their homes, so they had to go somewhere, so they went to the rental properties,” he said.
Despite the battering the Lorain County housing market took during the Great Recession, Snodgrass said he starting to see signs of life again — home sale prices are beginning to creep back up.