Recovery from the Great Recession remains slow in most of Lorain County’s cities and villages, with incomes and housing values taking time to come back up and many even declining over the last five years.
The U.S. Census Bureau’s 2013-17 American Community Survey, released today, shows that median household income declined in 222 out of 3,142 counties in the United States from the previous five years. Lorain County was one of those 222 counties, as median household income decreased countywide by 0.6 percent from the previous five years, 2008 to 2012.
In only three of Lorain County’s nine cities did median household income increase: Sheffield Lake (22 percent increase), Avon (7.9 percent) and Amherst (0.4 percent).
The remaining six cities saw a decrease in median household income: Oberlin (9.9 percent), Avon Lake (6.8 percent), Elyria (5.3 percent), Lorain (3.0 percent), North Ridgeville (1.5 percent), and Vermilion (0.8 percent). In Avon Lake, median household income dropped by $5,886 in the past five years and median housing values by $3,237, and Oberlin saw the second-highest drop, about $5,600, for median household income.
Lorain, which lost manufacturing jobs and household income in 2016 and 2017 when U.S. Steel and Republic Steel’s mills went idle, saw median household income decrease more than $1,100 — only a 3 percent drop, but a large one for the city with the lowest median household income in the county. Meanwhile, median owner-occupied housing values dropped by more than $20,000 in the last five years, a 19.7 percent decrease, in the city.
Lorain Mayor Chase Ritenauer said the news that unemployment is low and the city remains on budget with increased income tax collection is good, but the fact that median income and housing values haven’t increased in kind also tells him that Lorain and other cities once reliant on manufacturing jobs that paid good wages and benefits have seen a turn to the service-based economy of retail stores, restaurants and consumer goods.
When “income tax receipts from the city are up, that’s a definite sign people are working, but (the median income shows) they may be underemployed. When you move from manufacturing to the service sector, service-based jobs are not paying what manufacturing jobs paid,” Ritenauer said.
Second-lowest in median household income in Lorain County is Elyria. There, over the last five years, median household income fell more than $2,300 over the previous five years. The value of owner-occupied homes dropped by more than $14,500 over that same amount of time, a 13.1 percent decrease.
As Lorain does, Elyria also faces “challenges,” Mayor Holly Brinda said. But where there are challenges in the type of job and housing availability, Brinda said she also sees opportunity. The city is projected to have at least 350 housing starts in 2019, more than it has had in 20 years, she said.
The city is trying to reverse the trend of lost manufacturing jobs with Elyria Works Now!, a pilot program where the city, job-seekers and industry work together to place skilled workers with Elyria Foundry, Dura-line and other employers. The program is being extended through February, Brinda said this week.
The planned demolition and rebuilding of several Elyria schools will free up more land for possible residential development, she said.
“We’re a 201-year-old city, largely landlocked, and there are only certain places new houses can be built,” she said. “And there will be more in 2020 and 2021, so I’m optimistic about attracting and retaining young families with children and building some higher-end housing.”
Brinda said she also sees manufacturing companies seeking employees, which could boost the median household income in a city where the average age of all residents, she said, is 38 years old and there is more than $400 million in public and private investment going on.
With a “diversified” manufacturing base, Elyria’s manufacturers are “hiring on people into higher-paying manufacturing jobs, so we’re making them more aware and doing training and education and these companies are thinking differently too: Not only hiring at a higher wage, but offering higher-wage opportunities,” Brinda said.
And “how many cities can say they’re replacing every single public school?” she added. “We’re rebuilding that system, our library system; the city is refurbishing parks and roads and investing in safety and economic development. Our resurgence is real and we’ve got some momentum going. Families are seeing that, and I think it’s going to translate to retention and expansion of investment and families in our community.”
Housing values down
The median value of owner-occupied homes also dropped in all but five Lorain County municipalities. The only increases were in Sheffield Village, Rochester Township/village, LaGrange Township/village, Pittsfield, Columbia and Brighton townships. Pittsfield Township saw the largest increase, with housing values increasing $10,690, or 5.5 percent, followed closely by Columbia Township.
Grafton also saw a significant decline in both median household income (minus 16.5 percent from 2008-12 to 2013-17) and owner-occupied housing values (minus 9.0 percent).
A message seeking comment was left for village officials.
Ritenauer said he hopes state and federal officials “are paying attention” to the economic-class divide.
Officials at those levels “talk about the middle class, and the divide between those at the very top and the bottom.
“And top to bottom, there seems to be a growing divide,” he said.
Contact Dave O’Brien at (440) 329-7129 or do’firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at @daveobrienCT on Twitter.