The Journal Gazette
Saturday, September 17, 2016 10:12 pm

Hoosiers' income, inequality both grow

Sherry Slater | The Journal Gazette

Hoosier median household income increased by 2.1 percent last year, according to new Census data.

But the wealth wasn’t shared equally. Indiana was one of only eight states that saw income inequality increase from 2014 to 2015, the numbers also show.

Median household income was $50,532 in Indiana last year, more than 9 percent below the national rate of $55,775. The national median household income increased by 3.8 percent in that one-year period, the third consecutive increase considered statistically significant by researchers.

The U.S. median was previously $53,713, compared with Indiana’s $49,484.

The U.S. Census Bureau conducts interviews year-round to gather information about how people live and work, said John H. Thompson, the bureau’s director. A sampling of the population is chosen to participate, so data from the sample are used to estimate data for the total population.

"It helps people, business and governments in all of our states and local communities better understand the needs of their populations, the markets in which they operate and the challenges and opportunities they face," Thompson said in a statement.

Census officials released data on income, income inequality and poverty this week. 

Ohio median household income increased by 3.5 percent to $51,075. Michigan median household income grew by 2.4 percent to $51,084. Median numbers are a midpoint, with half of households earning more and half earning less. Even households with no income are included in the calculations.

Household income statistics reflect the combined earnings of everyone aged 15 and older living at that address.

Indiana, Michigan, Illinois and Kentucky all saw increases in income inequality, as did the national rate.

Ohio’s rate remained unchanged in year-over-year comparisons.

Income inequality has been a high-profile issue during the presidential election, with several candidates calling for changes that could include reforming the federal tax code and increasing minimum wage rates. The Workers’ Project Inc., a local nonprofit, is one of the many groups addressing income inequality as a priority.

Bob Haddad, a Workers’ Project member, believes income inequality threatens the American Dream by decreasing economic mobility.

The Fort Wayne Community Schools teacher sees how much children from low-income families struggle to keep up with peers growing up in financially stable families.

"It prevents students from starting off on an equal footing," said Haddad, a Democrat who is running for the Indiana Statehouse District 81 seat. 

Fort Wayne Mayor Tom Henry talked about wage rates for city employees in his annual address at the beginning of the year. A Politico survey of mayors found 81 percent consider income inequality a serious issue.

Earlier this week, United Way of Allen County released a report on the working poor that found 39 percent of Allen County households didn’t make enough money in 2014 to eke out even a bare-bones existence.

That number – which includes the poor and so-called ALICE families – was up from 35 percent in 2012.

The ALICE report looks at families that are "Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed." Their household income is above federal poverty levels, but they make too little to achieve financial stability.

Without savings, these families can easily fall into poverty when hit with bills for a medical emergency, necessary car repairs or other unexpected expenses.

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