By Rick Armon
Beacon Journal staff writer
Akron isn’t sharing the substantial gains posted in household income or the declines in the poverty rate that are being celebrated nationwide.
Census Bureau data released Thursday show median household income in Akron fell 0.5 percent from the previous year to $34,639 when adjusted for inflation.
Meanwhile, the poverty rate grew 3.2 percent in the city, with nearly 26 percent of all Akron residents now living below the poverty level.
The poverty increase was even worse for those under 18, with the rate ballooning 6.8 percent to 42.5 percent.
The federal poverty level is $11,880 for an individual or $24,300 for a family of four.
The statistics are especially sobering, considering the Census Bureau reported earlier this week that household income climbed 5.2 percent nationwide to $56,516 and the poverty rate fell 1.3 percent to 13.5 percent.
As a whole, Ohio also saw household income grow 3.5 percent to $51,075 and the poverty rate fall 1 percent to 14.8 percent.
The Akron numbers aren’t surprising to those fighting poverty in the city.
One of the biggest problems is that wages have remained low and stagnant for entry-level, low-skilled workers, said Bob Titus, chief operating officer for OPEN M, an Akron-based ministry that helps people find jobs.
Bosses are getting raises and so are professional employees, but the low-level workers at manufacturing companies aren’t, he said.
Some companies are paying workers anywhere from $8.50 to $11 an hour, and those employees have no leverage to quit and try to find a better-paying job.
“Who can live on $8.50 an hour?” Titus said. “It’s very sad. It’s very discouraging from our end to see.”
Jim Mullen, president and chief executive officer of the United Way of Summit County, blamed the problem, at least in part, on the city’s declining population as more affluent residents have moved into the suburbs, in many cases to follow jobs.
His agency oversees the Bridges Summit County initiative that focuses on poverty.
Summit County saw median income rise 1.7 percent to $51,309. Surrounding counties also experienced increases of at least 2.2 percent.
“The reality is that the people that are staying in Akron don’t have the means or ability to improve their conditions with employment, housing, the basics of life and are kind of forced into staying in the urban core,” Mullen said. “That’s going to drive median income and poverty rates.”
City leaders have talked about trying to boost the population, which stood at 192,564 last year, down 643 people from a year earlier.
Mullen noted that the community has seen many recent leadership changes in the public and nonprofit sectors, and there is now a coordinated effort underway to focus on the poverty problem.
“If we come together, we’ll start to see those numbers go down,” Mullen said.
Akron was one of only two big cities in Ohio — those with populations over 65,000 — that saw household income decline and the only one to see its poverty rate increase.
Out of the state’s 10 largest cities, Lorain was the other community to experience a decline in household income.
Canton saw an increase of 3.6 percent to $30,601, while Cleveland and Dayton each posted gains of more than 15 percent to $28,831 and $30,135, respectively.