Census shows poverty level remains flat despite unemployment dropping

Five years ago, more local families were married and living in a home they owned and their family size was slightly smaller.

Since then, the number of local families who speak a language other than English at home has risen, while the number living in poverty has remained relatively flat, even as the unemployment rate has dropped.

The data reflects changes in families across the state and nation, partially due to the economy, but also due to families putting off major life events, such as marriage, having children or buying a home, said Matt Kinghorn, a demographer with the Indiana Business Research Center.

The numbers from the U.S. Census Bureau bring to light trends, because they are five-year averages, Kinghorn said.

So the newest data shows the impact of the recession on homeownership rates, while also reflecting changes in family dynamics, such as the tendency of young people to wait longer to get married or buy a home, he said.

The data also reflects the growth of multi-generational living situations, where grandparents live with grandchildren, for example, Kinghorn said.

Local organizations also are seeing more grandparents raising their grandchildren because the parents are unable to for a multitude of reasons, United Way of Johnson County executive director Nancy Lohr Plake said. That has led to more grandparents applying for help from local programs, such as for coats through Operation Bundle Up or gifts through the Christmas Angels program, she said.

Plake said she would have liked to have seen the poverty rate decline, especially since the unemployment rate went down. But she also isn’t surprised to know families are still struggling, she said.

“I think that is a reality of our economy, it has gotten better, but for some people they have not returned to wages they were making before 2008,” she said.

Yearly estimates are showing the median income increasing, after it had been sliding since the recession, which is a good sign for the future, Kinghorn said.

But those past struggles continue to have an impact on families, such as with the homeownership rate, which fell by nearly 4 percentage points in Johnson County, according to the data.

Indiana still has high homeownership rates, especially compared to other states, he said. But those numbers have declined, and led to an increase in families renting a home, he said.

That has led to a higher need for apartments, and at least two are planned in Greenwood. But one area that the county is still lacking is in affordable housing, Plake said.

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Annie Goeller is managing editor of the Daily Journal. She can be reached at agoeller@dailyjournal.net or 317-736-2718.