COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) – Ohio’s poverty rate narrowly dropped this year, but the woes continue in multiple categories for some 11 million people considered low-income in the state.
One thing has also remained the same since 2016: Ohio’s poverty rate is higher than the national average. The state sits at 12.7%, lagging behind the 11.9% nationwide rate, according to the 2022 State Poverty Report of Ohio, released by the Ohio Association of Community Action Agencies. This was a slight drop in Ohio’s poverty rate from 2021’s 13.1% rate, but the report detailed serious challenges in four areas: housing, student debt, employment and child care.
“While some Ohioans have begun to return to aspects of pre-pandemic life, the lives of countless others continue to be affected in ways made difficult by the pandemic,” OACAA Executive Director Philip E. Cole said in the report.
There are about 100,000 more jobs available in Ohio than there are unemployed workers to fill them, the report found. Working-class jobs in manufacturing and trade, transportation and utilities “were among the hardest hit” when it comes to unemployment rates.
“Economists noticed that Ohio’s decision to end unemployment benefits early did not lead to workers returning to the workforce,” the report said.
Conversely, higher-paying jobs saw their employment rates grow, while low-wage work saw a decline. Between January 2020 and August 2021, the employment rate for high and middle-wage works rose by 14.3% and 7.1% respectively, while low-wage work dropped by 18.8%. The OACAA report said this is clear evidence that lower-wage workers are leaving their jobs.
Among Ohioans who make 30% of the average median income or less, 67% are considered to be severely cost-burdened – meaning they spend at least half their income on housing-related expenses. However, the report specified that these are homeowning low-income people paying mortgages in the state, not people renting apartments or homes.
The story for impoverished renters isn’t looking good, either, according to the report. A lack of access to affordable rental housing – a shortage of about 252,000 units – continues to keep many low-income Ohioans in poverty. And of the rental units available, the fair market rent rate from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development is $9,000 more than what a low-income family of four has to work with.
“At minimum wage, a worker would need to work 72 hours a week to be able to afford a one-bedroom home in Columbus,” the report said.
The poverty report did not make any mention of President Joe Biden’s plan to wipe out $10,000 in student loan debt for American borrowers. However, it did note that Ohio’s lower median income and higher median student debt mean Ohioans have more to pay off with less. Ohio’s median income is $1,406 lower than the national average, while its median student debt is $1,637 higher.
College debt further addles low-income students because many have to take out loans with less grant support. The report said Ohio is lagging behind in issuing student grants, or money towards college that doesn’t need to be paid back. While students get $573 in state grants on a national average, Ohio gives just $188 per student.
The student loan issue is on track to get worse for Ohioans. The OACAA noted the average student’s debt increased by 22% in-state over a decade, which is a rate that’s also higher than the national average.
The COVID-19 pandemic forced closures on the childcare industry, and 15% of the businesses in it never reopened, according to a survey cited in the report. There are less childcare facilities in play, and alongside that, less workers to staff them.
The average pay for childcare workers in Ohio: $10.67. The survey by the National Association of Education of Young Children found that 68% of workers gave low wages as their reason for leaving.
“It should be noted that this hourly rate would be below the self-sufficiency wage for a family of four in every county in Ohio,” the report said.
The survey drilled down farther into stats shared by the OACAA:
- 76% of child care centers experienced staff shortages
- 44% of programs that experienced staff shortages served fewer children as a result
- 19% of programs that experienced staff shortages reduced operating hours
These issues coupled together for fewer options for low-income families. The OACAA found a survey of Ohio parents that indicated 43% took fewer hours at work to care for their own kids. For part-time or unemployed mothers, 60% said they would work more or get a job if they could find a reasonably-priced childcare facility.