New Census data show sharp increase in racial income gap last year

Ohio’s racial income gap held steady in 2018 despite growing wider in Summit County and Akron than in just about any year since the Great Recession.

That’s according to U.S. Census Bureau data released Thursday. The annual estimates on America’s more populous counties and cities cover key demographic and economic indicators like poverty and unemployment, income and economic inequality, which is rising statewide.

The release confirms what researchers and economists have been saying for years: America is getting older, richer and more unequal.

While national and state income levels ticked up, income inequality — a measure of how evenly or unevenly distributed wages are among all workers — increased slightly for Ohio while falling in Summit County. The statewide poverty rate stayed about flat at 14 percent while dropping one percentage point to 11.7% in Summit County. Akron’s poverty rate at 21.7%, down from 22.5% in 2017, remained well below the 33.1% and 32.25% poverty rates of Cleveland and Canton, respectively.

Summit County’s median household income was $58,876 in 2018 compared to $52,068 in Stark County, $64,550 in Portage County, $59,111 in Wayne County and $75,786 in Medina County.

In virtually every state, more people are also postponing marriage. And if they have children at all, they’re starting later, according to the data.

What’s troubling local business and civic leaders, though, is a stubborn disparity among the paychecks of white and black residents in and around Akron.

Akron’s black households earned 59 cents in 2018 for every $1 made by white households, down a dime from last year and a far cry from the 75 cents the city’s black households took home for every $1 earned by a white family in 2006 as the region began shedding jobs. Akron’s ratios of black-to-white income was better than Ohio’s (at 55 cents per dollar) or Summit County’s (at 49 cents per dollar). Portage County led the region with black households

Thursday’s data release underscores a racially uneven economic recovery. Since 2010, as the region pulled away from deep unemployment, wage gains have flowed faster to white workers. Across Summit County, median incomes for white households climbed 15% compared to only 7% for black families.

That’s a persistent trend that worsened last year when median incomes for white households in Summit County and Akron shot up 6% and 9%, respectively, while falling 1% and 7% for black residents.

“These numbers are deeply troubling, but not shocking,” said James Hardy, chief of staff to Mayor Dan Horrigan. “This is exactly why we created the Elevate Akron plan [last October], held the inaugural Inclusion Summit [this month], and revamped the way in which our community engages in economic development.”

“We have an unacceptable gap in economic opportunity across our nation, region, and community when it comes to race,” said Hardy. “We did not arrive at this place by accident, and it will take long-term intentional efforts from both the public and private sectors to change this disparity.”

Steve Millard, president and CEO of the Greater Akron Chamber of Commerce, said the “distressing” economic results of 2018 underline an already urgent issue.

“If we don’t take action, we’ll see the community go backward,” Millard said. “And I think that’s what you see in the data.”

Backsliding median income for any demographic group is a bad omen. When the same indicator improves for white counterparts, “the data says more black people are making less money. That’s how median income goes down. And that’s distressing.”

New homes and industrial development in suburban communities remain no closer or accessible to Akron’s historically underserved populations. Metro RTA and nonprofits like ConexusNEO, which matches supply and demand in the local job market, are launching efforts to get residents to job hubs outside their neighborhoods, which might also be outside their city.

The chamber of commerce estimates that 13,000 people with two-year degrees are actively job-hunting in Summit County, which has about 18,000 job openings. It’s not the skills gap that’s keeping residents from upward mobility. It’s a “connectivity issue,” Millard said. “We’re not putting the jobs where our people are.”

“If we are comfortable with our efforts to correct racial disparities — that means we aren’t doing enough,” said Hardy. “We need to get uncomfortable. Mayor Horrigan and the Elevate Akron partners have proven that they are willing to do just that. I hope that anyone who is not already disturbed by this black-white income gap will quickly be motivated to join us in turning the tide.”

The data show steady gains in employment, albeit with uneven increase or stagnating wages for some.

The national unemployment rate fell from 5% in 2017 to 4.7% last year. That’s compared to 10.5% in 2010 when Americans had just begun their slow rise from the recession.

Ohio’s 2018 unemployment rate was 4.7%, down significantly from 11% in 2010. Locally, unemployment rates came in at 5% in Summit and Stark counties, 4% in Portage, 3% in Wayne and 2% in Medina.

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Livingston, Doug. (2019, Sep 26). New Census data shows sharp increase in racial income gap last year.  Akron Beacon Journal/  Retrieved from