COLUMBUS — More than 1.6 million Ohioans — that’s about 14.8 percent of the population in the state — were living below the federal poverty line in 2015, according to a new report issued a couple of days ago by groups that advocate on behalf of the needy.
And that, the reports’ authors said, likely isn’t representative all of the residents who aren’t making ends meet, thanks to federal guidelines they say are in need of updating.
Regardless, the bottom-line message of “2016 State of Poverty: A Portrait of Ohio Families” is that many Ohioans are barely scraping by, with grandparents playing the role of primary caregiver for their grandkids, food pantries opening on college campuses to serve students (and sometimes staff) and fewer of the higher-paying jobs that the state enjoyed in decades past.
That’s not even mentioning advocacy groups’ concerns about federal budget discussions that could lead to big cuts in programs aimed at helping vulnerable populations.
“You talk about pulling the rug out from hundreds and hundreds of thousands of people….,” said Philip E. Cole, executive director of Ohio Association of Community Action Agencies. “You’re talking about leaving people out on the street.”
According to the report:
• Federal Guidelines: A family of four (two adults, two kids) needs to earn about 146 percent of the federal poverty level to be self sufficient — that is, to cover the costs of housing, food, clothing, utilities and other basic needs.
A single-parent with two children would have to work 109 hours per week to be able to pay the basics costs of living, if earning minimum wage.
“That leaves 59 hours [per week] for everything else — so, sleeping, driving to the grocery store, making dinner, paying bills….,” said Lynnette Cook, executive director of Community Research Partners.
Cole added, “That’s immoral, and no family can survive that.”
• Kids: Among other alarming trends, Cook said a little more than 25 percent of children younger than six, 21.2 percent of those age six to 11, and nearly 18 percent of those age 12-17 are living in poverty.
“About 8 percent of kids in Ohio are both food insecure, meaning they don’t have enough to eat… and likely ineligible for assistance,” she said, adding that the results were nearly double the national rate.
• Grandparents: There are nearly 40,000 households in the state where grandparents are responsible for caring for their grandchildren, with the latter’s parents no longer present.
“That’s the official number,” Cole said, noting that there are likely many more such arrangements that have not been reported to agencies.
About 22 percent of grandparent-headed households are living in poverty.
“… Grandparents rarely plan to take custody of their grandkids,” Cook said. “That’s not something that we typically do, so they’re not likely to be emotionally much less financially prepared for all that that entails.”
• College Students: At least a dozen Ohio colleges or universities now have food pantries on campus.
“The really shocking thing is at least one of these campuses can now open their food pantry to their staff,” Cole said. “… A public college, where people are getting a paycheck from the state of Ohio… and in the end they still qualify for a food pantry.”
He added, “To many Ohioans, public universities are no longer affordable….”
Kovac covers the Ohio Statehouse for Gatehouse Media. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at OhioCapitalBlog.