From 2011 to 2012, poverty and income levels in the Columbus metropolitan area remained virtually the same, according to statistics released today by the U.S. Census Bureau.
The poverty rate jumped to 19 percent from 17 percent, while the median income increased to $42,972 from $40,155. But the changes were not statistically significant, according to tables on the census website.
There was, however, at least one exception. In Muscogee County, median incomes jumped significantly to $45,178 from $38,355, hitting the highest level since the Great Recession. In that category, the county bucked the national trend where median income and poverty levels were stagnant.
Benjamin Blair, director of the Butler Center for Business and Economic Research at Columbus State University, said the rise in the county's median income is significant, but the number is still well below the U.S. level of $51,000. He said incomes had been dropping across the nation in recent years, but the new census numbers suggest things are leveling off.
"What it may mean for the metro area is that it's getting near its bottom and that Muscogee County is ahead of the area as a whole as far as pulling itself out of the recession," he said. "The county may be recovering a little faster than the rest of the metro area, which is what you would expect."
Matthew Hauer, director of applied demography at the Carl Vinson Institute of Government at the University of Georgia, said year-to-year census statistics can fluctuate widely and people should be careful not to jump to any conclusions.
"I'd be cautious about calling it a day and saying, 'Hey, everything is all right,'" he said. "But I would definitely think that it's showing signs that the recession is starting to wane. As people start to get back into the job force, household income will start to tick upwards."
Hauer said there are other economic indicators that suggest the country is recovering.
"For instance, state tax receipts are starting to bounce back," he said.
The census numbers were released as part of the 2012 American Community Survey, which measures the social, economic and housing conditions of U.S. communities.
The statistics cover all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, congressional districts, metropolitan areas and all places with populations of 65,000 or more.
The Columbus metropolitan area consists of Muscogee, Harris and Marion counties in Georgia, and Russell County in Alabama.
From 2011 to 2012, unemployment dropped from an average yearly rate of 12.6 percent to 10 percent in the metro area, and from 12.5 percent to 10.3 percent in the county. But the latter was not statistically significant, according to the census website.
From 2008 to 2010, the county's median household income dropped to $36,531 from $43,458, according to the census website.
Incomes began to rebound in 2011.
In the Atlanta area, numbers held steady. The median household income went from $53,681 to $54,628 from 2011 to 2012, and the poverty rate dropped from 16.8 percent to 16.6 percent. But statistically there was no real change.
Nationally, the poverty rate was unchanged at 15 percent, with 46.5 million people living at or below the poverty line.
It marked the second consecutive year that the official poverty rate and the number of people in poverty were statistically unchanged from the previous year.
For the past year, the official poverty line was an annual income of $23,492 for a family of four.
The 2012 poverty rate was 2.5 percentage points higher than in 2007, the year before the economic downturn, according to a census bureau news release.
"Income levels and poverty rates were not statistically different for most states and metro areas from 2011 to 2012," the release said.
"Incomes remained lower and poverty rates were higher in 2012 than in 2007, the year before the recession."