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A state of need
13 percent of Ohioans live in poverty, and hard times are pushing more over the edge. The governor, saying he has had enough, seeks action.
Thursday, May 29, 2008
By Catherine Candisky
Amid the glut of negative economic statistics these days, this is perhaps the most stunning: More than 13 percent of Ohioans are now living in poverty, unable to afford adequate food, housing, clothes and other necessities.
That's the largest portion of the state's population considered poor under federal guidelines since 1964, when President Lyndon B. Johnson declared a "War on Poverty," thrusting the issue into the national spotlight.
Yesterday, Gov. Ted Strickland decided it was time to do something about it; he announced the creation of a state task force to combat poverty, hoping to renew attention to the plight of Ohio's poor.
The announcement came as about 300 anti-poverty advocates gathered all day at the Statehouse for the state's first poverty summit: "The Real Bottom Line: Crafting an agenda to help low income Ohioans survive and thrive."
"Too many of our neighbors struggle to meet their basic needs," Strickland said. "They live in constant fear that next week's paycheck will be less than next week's bills."
A report released at the conference by the Columbus-based Community Research Partners revealed some alarming trends. An oft-misunderstood fact is that the majority of poor Ohioans are working; they just don't earn much.
A quarter of the state's labor force -- 1.1 million Ohioans over age 18 -- earned just under $10 an hour in 2007. Even with full-time, yearlong employment, that's still less than the federal poverty level -- $21,200 a year for a family of four.
Sinking wages and rising costs in Ohio's sputtering economy are making it harder for more families to afford necessities such as housing, health care and food.
"Security and stability are no longer in the cards for many Ohioans," said Phil Cole, executive director of the Ohio Association of Community Action Agencies, which hosted the conference.
"More and more of us are one house payment or one job outsourcing away from financial hardship."
The report also found that poverty in Ohio is increasing four times faster than population growth.
Between 1969 and 2006, Ohio's population grew by 10 percent; the number of residents living in poverty during that time increased by 43 percent.
"There is now a disconnect between having a job and earning a living," said Bobbie Garber, executive director of Community Research Partners.
Education also is a key factor in poverty. According to the report, nearly 1 in 4 Ohioans over age 25 without a high-school diploma was living in poverty in 2006, compared to 1 in 12 with at least some college or an associate's degree.
Strickland's task force will be headed by Greg Landsman, director of the governor's Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives.
Under the governor's order, the panel must hold its first meeting no later than July 15 and within 45 days issue recommendations on "immediate and pragmatic policy changes or strategic adjustments in spending which, if implemented, would reduce the level of Ohioans living at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level."
The task force is to issue long-term recommendations to the governor by April 30.
Cole said the task force will help draw attention to the urgency of the problem.
Advocates took aim at federal poverty guidelines, saying they must be revised because they grossly underestimate how much it takes to make ends meet.
Under federal guidelines, poverty for a family of four is defined as earning less than $21,200 a year. A study commissioned by the Ohio Association of Community Action Agencies says it takes more than twice that to pay for food, housing, clothing and other necessities.
To read the full report, visit our State of Poverty project page.