Gap Between Rich, Poor Grows Wider In Ohio

By LIZ SIDOTI, Associated Press Writer

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - Golddremmia and Michael Winland have two vehicles and two jobs between them and bring in more money than most others in Batesville.

The couple, who have four children and a combined income of $70,000, are one of the only two-income households in their tiny Noble County village.

"We're a working family just trying to make it, and we're one of the richest in the village. That's sad," Mrs. Winland, the village clerk, said. "It isn't that we're wealthy, we just have jobs when most others here don't."

She said there are few jobs in the area, and many can't afford vehicles to drive to areas where work is available. So, they simply collect welfare.

That could explain why Batesville, a tiny economically depressed town about 96 miles east of Columbus with a population of 100, has the most uneven distribution of income of all Ohio towns, according to Census 2000 data released Wednesday.

The figures, from the long-form questionnaire that asked a sample of Ohioans to report their 1999 income, show that the effect of the economic boom of the 1990s was uneven as the gap between rich and poor Ohioans grew in 63 of the state's 88 counties.

Wealth was more evenly distributed in the state's farming and suburban counties, but less evenly distributed in Appalachian and metropolitan areas.

The Associated Press used a statistical formula named for Italian demographer Corrado Gini to measure the disparity of income -- the gap between the rich and poor.

The "Gini coefficient" measures the mathematical deviation from perfectly equal distribution of income. A population with income distributed evenly would have a Gini coefficient of 0; one with the widest income disparity would have a Gini coefficient of 100.

In 2000, the state had an overall rating of 44, compared to a rating of 43 in 1990. The gap grew 2.4 percent.

"It seems like a slight difference, but it's not when you break down the data," said Heather Boushey, an economist with the Economic Policy Institute.

A study released in April by the EPI and the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, Washington-based think tanks, found that Ohio was one of five states where the income gap grew the most from the 1970s through the 1990s, with the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer.

In the 1990s alone, Boushey said, the poorest Ohioans saw their annual income rise by 6.6 percent -- or $910 -- compared with a 25 percent increase -- or $28,450 -- for the richest Ohioans.

"Also, income growth for the poorest 20 percent of Ohioans was much slower than it was nationally," Boushey said.

In Ohio, income for the poorest grew 6.6 percent compared with a 12.3 percent increase nationally, she said.

During the decade, cities remained centers of inequality.

The new Census figures show that Akron was the only of the state's biggest cities where the gap between the rich and the poor shrunk. However, the city still posted a rating of 44.8.

Conversely, Union County, a central Ohio farming community, saw its income become more evenly distributed in the 1990s. The gap there shrunk by 10.2 percent, the largest drop in the state, from a rating of of 39.1 in 1989 to 35.1 in 1999.

However, the gap widened the most in some of the state's poorest Appalachian counties. Located in eastern Ohio coal country, Harrison and Belmont counties' income was 10.7 percent and 9.4 percent more unequally distributed, respectively, than a decade ago.

Sara Lichtin Boyd, a research associate for the Institute for Local Government Administration and Rural Development at Ohio University, said the disparities in Appalachian Ohio are not surprising.

"We've got people with a lot of bucks here and people with no bucks," she said of Athens County.

Boyd added that the wider income gaps in the region show that welfare reform of the 1990s didn't necessarily help income be distributed more evenly among poor Ohioans.

"It decreased their dependency but didn't increase their income," Boyd said. "It created a whole subpopulation of working poor."

Mike Wogan, of Nelsonville, considers himself in that group.

He said often works double shifts at Apac Bargain Furniture to support his wife, a stay-at-home mom, and his son, 5, and 1-year-old daughter.

Still, he said, the family just barely gets by on his minimum-wage income.

Wogan, a 27-year-old who never finished high school, said he's tired of living paycheck to paycheck and sporadically collecting welfare. He is working to get his graduate equivalency.

"I want to get it to get a better job that pays more, and that's the way to do it," Wogan said.

Despite having one of the highest household incomes in Batesville, the Winlands say they are far from rich.

He travels throughout the nation working construction for a company out of Circleville in a 1995 Chevy van. She drives an hour each way in a 1996 Chevy car to her job caring for nursing-home residents in New Concord.

"Within one week, it's nothing for me to put 80 bucks worth of gas in my car," Mrs. Winland said.

Still, they manage to put away money for college for their children, ages 14, 12, 10 and 6. The family moved out of their trailer in 1997 into a house they built.

"It's very poor here," Winland said. "I stop and look at our family compared to the other people in town. We may struggle, but we're blessed. At least we have incomes."

(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)