Elkhart County poverty dips, but that doesn't mean economic recovery efforts are over

New U.S. Census Bureau figures show poverty in Elkhart County fell to 15.2 percent in 2012, from 18.3 percent in 2011.
Posted on Dec. 12, 2013 at 12:00 a.m. | Updated on Dec. 12, 2013 at 6:34 p.m.

Poverty dipped in 2012 in Elkhart County for the first time since the Great Recession wreaked havoc here and in the rest of the country, according to new U.S. Census Bureau estimates.

Likewise, median household income in Elkhart County edged up in 2012, reaching the highest level since 2008.

Time to celebrate? Declare mission accomplished in efforts to turn the economy around in the wake of the downturn of 2007-2009?

Hardly, says one advocate for the poor.

Sure, it may not be like it was in the late 2000s, when local manufacturing plummeted and unemployment surpassed 18 percent. “But I think we need to string together some additional good years before we wave the flag that we're out of the depression,” said Rod Roberson, executive director of Church Community Services in Elkhart.

CCS operates a food pantry and offers other services to the poor, and Roberson said while more people are working — a key indicator — many are still just scraping by due to low wages, still reliant on the nonprofit agency and other such organizations. “They still need help in order to be able to have some resemblance of a life,” said Roberson.

That said, it's good to see improvement in Elkhart County's numbers, Roberson said. And here's a look at some of the Census Bureau figures, released by the agency's Small Area Income and Poverty Estimates program, or SAIPE:

Ÿ Overall poverty totaled 15.2 percent in 2012 in Elkhart County, affecting 29,711 people. Those numbers are down from 18.3 percent and 35,641 people in 2011. The 2012 poverty rate was the lowest since 2009, when it measured 14.4 percent and it also lags the pre-recession figures of 11.1 percent in 2007 and 10.8 percent in 2006.

Ÿ Poverty among those under 18 totaled 21.2 percent in 2012, impacting 11,662 people, down from the 2011 numbers of 27.4 percent and 15,110 people. The rate was the lowest since 2008, when it measured 18 percent, and also lags 16.2 percent in 2007.

Poverty thresholds in 2011, as calculated by the U.S. Census Bureau, were $22,811 for a family of two adults and two children and $18,123 for a family of one adult and two children.

Ÿ Median household income in 2012 in Elkhart County reached $45,806, up from $44,354 in 2011. The 2012 figure was the largest since 2008, when it was $49,989.

The Great Recession, as measured by the National Bureau of Economic Research, lasted from December 2007 until June 2009. Soft economic conditions have lingered well beyond that, and Roberson refers to the downturn as a depression because of the hard hit to Elkhart County.

Given the magnitude of the hit, 18.1 percent unemployment alone in 2009 in Elkhart County, “it's going to be a longer crawl (to recovery), if you will,” Roberson said. “We have to cover more ground than most folks.”

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