By Ken Alltucker
The Cincinnati Enquirer
The number of Ohio families living in poverty declined slightly last year, even though the typical state household lost more than $1,000 in income.
A new U.S. Census Bureau report released Friday showed Ohio's median household income stood at $42,567 in 2002. That represented a 2.5 percent drop from $43,656 in 2001.
The state's poverty rate decreased slightly during the past three years to 10.1 percent.
In both Kentucky and Indiana, income dropped, while poverty rose.
The census report didn't include poverty and income breakdowns for cities and counties, but economists say the income drop is true for Greater Cincinnati as workers earn smaller paychecks because of the bad economy.
"The decrease in income levels occurred at all levels, including middle-income and higher-income levels," said George Vredeveld, a University of Cincinnati economist.
Matt Hollenkamp, marketing and fund-raising manager for Catholic Social Services in Covington, wasn't surprised to learn Kentucky's poverty rate jumped nearly one point to 13.4 percent.
Hollenkamp's agency helps low-income families through counseling and other services. People are increasingly asking for help to pay rent or mortgage bills, he said.
The federal government's poverty threshold varies depending on household size or age. A family of four is considered poor if it earns $18,392 or less a year.
Nationwide, an additional 1.7 million people fell into the ranks of the poor over the last year.
It's the second consecutive year that the U.S. poverty rate rose after falling for eight consecutive years. Nearly 34.6 million people were in poverty in 2002.
The report is the government's national measure of poverty and income, and it comes from a survey of 78,000 households conducted each March.
Yet some experts challenge the survey's reliability at the statewide level.
"That survey is designed to measure national poverty and income figures," said George Zeller, senior researcher for Council for Economic Opportunities of Greater Cleveland. "The sample level is too small for the states."
Therefore, Zeller questions whether Ohio's poverty rate truly dropped.
His research of Ohio's income and job data shows total earnings or workers statewide have dropped 2.2 percent from 2001 to 2003.
The recession has particularly stung Hamilton County, where more than 20,500 jobs have been shed over the past two years.
"That caused a huge loss in earnings," Zeller said.
UC's Vredeveld also said the income drop likely helped push some people into poverty.
But he said other possible explanations for the income drop include reduced work hours, laid-off workers settling for lower paying jobs and better educated or more skilled workers finding jobs outside Ohio.
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