On Sept. 14, the United Census Bureau released data for every county in the United States. This data from the American Community Survey are estimates that the Census Bureau comes out with every year that describes in detail what America’s communities and counties look like.
At first glance, it seems like the county is on a pretty steady path. The population grew at a modest 0.4 percent rate, which is pretty much the same rate it has been growing over the last five years. Our average age is hovering right at 42 years of age, where it has been the last three years. From a population standpoint, Miami County is as about as stable as it comes.
But perhaps this biggest shock came from the income numbers. The Median Household Income reported in the survey was $60,170. This is the first time this figure has been over $60,000 in the county. Even more interesting is that that this figure represents a 22 percent (yes, 22 percent!) increase over last year. Does this mean that all our households received a 22 percent increase in their income? Hardly. But can other data sets tells us what is happening here? Maybe.
Where things haven’t changed are in the median earnings for employees. Median earning for all employees were at $53,168 in 2016, which is actually a 2.4 percent decrease from 2015. This of course comes at the same time the average number of hours an employee puts in at work increased; the average number of hours per employee is 39.7 hours per week.
The overall poverty rate in the county is going down. In 2016, the poverty rate was 9.5 percent, the first time it was below 10% since 2013. Children in poverty were at 11.8 percent, again a low number compared to previous years and the poverty rate for those over age 65 was at the lowest point in six years at 5.0 percent.
Of course when it comes to poverty, the basic argument is that if those in poverty just had a full-time job, those numbers would decrease. No doubt, as we are seeing an increase in employment opportunities, we are seeing a decrease in poverty. But, we are seeing some data points that are beginning to show that employment is not necessarily a means to get out poverty; these statistics should cause concern from all of us.
In 2012, 0.5 percent percent of all employees, one in 200 were still living in poverty. In 2016, that number rose to 1 in 25, or 4.0 percent. That number has risen exponentially every year. In fact, that figure has never reached that high since the American Community Survey has been recording that data.
In addition, there are more individuals in poverty that are actually in the workforce. In 2010, 24.6 percent of all individual in poverty were not in the workforce; that number has consistently gone down. In 2016, 19.7 percent of individuals in poverty are not in the workforce.
What do all these numbers mean? What is the story that the data is telling us?
I would contend that the data is telling us that the preconceived ideas we have about poverty may not be correct. If we believe that those in poverty are generally not working; the data is telling us exactly the opposite. There are more individuals in poverty that are working than ever.
On the flip side, if we believe a full-time job is a ticket out of poverty, it is a theory which may no longer be the case. The number of those full-time employees in poverty have grown eight-fold in five years.
All of this tells us that while we can look positively to a huge increase in that standard measure of community health, median household income, there are other numbers that show that poverty still exists and it manifests itself in different ways.
The value of this data, isn’t necessarily just the numbers, it’s the trends, and while these numbers can tell a story for where we are and where we were, it doesn’t necessarily tell us where we will be. Let’s see where these numbers are next year and what story we can tell for what happened in 2017.
William “Bill” Lutz is executive director of The New Path Inc. He can be reached at email@example.com.