COLUMBUS, Ohio (CGE) – The Great Recession has taken its toll on Ohio and its workforce, as government reports show its welfare rolls are now the third largest in the nation.
According to data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Ohio, with a population of 11,536,504 as determined by Census data released Tuesday, had an average monthly caseload in the past fiscal year of 102,446 families, a 28 percent increase from 2007 but still much lower than 1992, when 163,079 families needed help from government to make ends meet.
But good times are still a ways off for many Ohioans who have either lost their jobs, can’t find new ones or have exhausted their unemployment insurance options.
ODJFS has good, bad news
The Ohio Department of Job and Family Services (ODJFS) announced Thursday (PDF) that more than 35,776 eligible unemployed workers in Ohio are again receiving federal extended unemployment benefits, after President Obama signed legislation last Friday extending deadlines for the program from November 27, 2010, to December 31, 2011.
In a press announcement, ODJFS said it began notifying claimants less than an hour after the president signed the extension, and it began processing retroactive payments on Friday night. By Sunday, the agency said, it had issued approximately $36.1 million dollars in retroactive payments.
As a result of the federal tax cut bill, ODJFS said more Ohioans will be able to collect unemployment compensation for up to 99 weeks: 26 weeks of regular state unemployment, followed by 53 weeks of federal extended unemployment benefits and an additional 20 weeks of extended state benefits, which are federally funded. The legislation, it said, did not add additional weeks of compensation beyond the 99 weeks currently available.
While this is certainly good news, ODJFS, using a budget analysis it performed recently, reminded leaders and lawmakers that caseloads will continue to rise.
Working families earning less
More statistical analysis, this time in a report by the Working Families Project (PDF), a nonprofit group that advocates on behalf of the working poor, says the share of working families earning less than double the official poverty threshold – $43,512 for a family of four – increased from 28 to 30 percent between 2007 and 2009.
The report said the number of people living in low-income working families increased by 1.7 million to 45 million between 2008 and 2009. And in November, the jobless rate nationally rose to 9.8 percent; it has remained near 10 percent for more than a year.
In yet another confirmation the Great Recession will not go quickly, new date from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows America’s workers earned less in 2009 than in 2008. Declines of 3.2 percent in construction and manufacturing fueled the dip.
While those lucky enough to have a job may have experience a 1.2 percent increase in pay, overall income inequality is now at its worst since 1928, according to the Economic Policy Institute (EPI). EPI reports that between 1979 and 2005, households at the bottom fifth of the income scale have seen an average, inflation-adjusted income growth of just $200. EPI said the $200 figure does not represent an average annual increase in income, “but rather an increase of $200 over the entire 26-year period.”
“A small number of households at the top 0.1% of the income scale saw average income growth of almost $6 million over that same period,” EPI reported.
Maybe more disconcerting for the 400,000-plus Ohioans who saw their livelihoods disappear since the onset of the greatest recession since the Great Depression of the 1930s is the fact that the “wealth gap,” which differs from the income gap because it measures total net worth, is now 225 times greater between the richest 1 percent and the median family net worth.
Will new fiscal conservatives help or hurt?
Advocates for low-income families and the embattled middle class see another gathering storm. Their concern is that the new batch of fiscal conservatives who rode into to Washington and many state legislatures will refocus their political ideology on reducing the nation’s huge budget deficit or balancing their state budgets. Consequently, the prospect of maintaining past spending levels on programs that help enable social mobility are threatened.
Brandon Roberts, a co-author of the EPI report, said the country is headed in the wrong direction. “We are not making sufficient investments to help working families get ahead. Unfortunately, the constraints on the budget are going to make this even more difficult going forward,” Roberts said to Michael A. Fletcher
of the Washington Post.
Michael McCreight, deputy chief of staff for the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services, said Ohio has asked federal regulators to waive a $77.8 million fine for 2007 and 2008 because the lack of jobs has made it difficult for recipients to find work, as reported by The Columbus Dispatch. McCreight said his agency expects additional fines to be levied against the state after receiving official notice that Ohio also fell short in 2009 and 2010.
“We [Ohio] never recovered from the last recession, so we have been at a disadvantage,” McCreight told Dispatch reporter Catherine Candisky.
Click ‘Subscribe’ above to have the next CGE column delivered via email to you. Read more stories on people, politics and government in Ohio here, or on Facebook or Twitter. Send news or tips to [email protected]