Stark County's poverty rate is slightly higher than both the state and national rates, according to a new report from the Ohio Association of Community Action Agencies.
The 2022 State of Poverty in Ohio Report shows that Stark had a 13.2% overall poverty rate last year. Ohio has an estimated poverty rate of 12.7%. That's 0.8% higher than the country's rate of 11.9%.
The Buckeye State's poverty rate has consistently exceeded the federal level since 2016, the report says. The percentages have decreased in recent years, but the gap between them has grown.
Stark's overall poverty rate is higher than that of several nearby counties: Summit (12.1%), Tuscarawas (11.6%), Portage (9.9%), Carroll (11.6%), Wayne (9%) and Holmes (8.4%). Meanwhile, Mahoning (15.8%) and Columbiana (13.9%) have higher rates.
But Phillip Cole, executive director of the Ohio Association of Community Action Agencies, said what's even more alarming is the state's episodic poverty rate, or the percentage of people who live in poverty for at least two consecutive months over a two-year period. The report says the rate in Ohio is 27%.
"Over a quarter of the population of this state is poor," Cole said. "They don't officially live in poverty most of the time, but they're struggling."
State of Poverty Report looks at employment, childcare, student loan debt and housing
The Ohio Association of Community Action Agencies is an agency rooted in Columbus that aims to help families and individuals in poverty and has 48 agencies across the state. It releases the State of Poverty Report annually. This year, the report focused on four key areas that drive poverty: employment issues, childcare, student loan debt and housing concerns. It says these issues interact and disproportionality affect people in poverty.
"Discussions of student loan forgiveness, eviction moratoriums, the changes in the job market and the unique challenges faced by childcare providers during the pandemic have all taken center stage over the course of the past year," the report says. "In particular, these areas can have effects on low-income households in ways that higher-income households in Ohio never experience."
The report notes that while many people have returned to certain aspects of pre-pandemic life, it is more difficult for those in poverty because they continue to be affected by issues stemming from the pandemic.
One of these issues is the lack of affordable housing for low-income individuals and families. The National Low Income Housing Coalition has reported that Ohio is short by more than 252,000 units for "extremely low-income renters."
Stark has seen an uptick in homeless households this year, according to the Homeless Continuum of Care of Stark County.
"In working with families and households within our community, regardless of if they're literally homeless or any household, the one big thing that we're seeing is that housing security and that inability to secure housing within our community," said Marcie Bragg, executive director at Stark Housing Network Inc.
Bragg works to provide housing resources to Stark County residents who are experiencing homelessness and actively seeking housing as they stay at or exit shelters. She said a lack of affordable housing creates barriers for those in poverty because it increases demand, which can result in landlords upping their rates.
"I think it absolutely all ties together," she said.
Report breaks down difference between federal poverty level, area median income
The State of Poverty Report breaks down the definitions of federal poverty level, area median income and self-sufficiency standard. These guidelines are used to describe poverty and establish levels for assistance programs.
The report uses examples of situations faced by Ohioans to help explain the guidelines. One example is of a fictional couple from Stark County named Dalton and Sophia. In early 2020, Dalton worked full time making $41,000 per year while Sophia had a part-time job making $16,177 per year. Together, the couple earned $57,177 annually. They had two children; one attended public school while the other went to the daycare where Sophia worked.
Sophia was laid off temporarily at the start of the pandemic. She later found a part-time, work-from-home position making $15,600 a year. She decided not to return to her previous job at the daycare because working from home allowed the family to save money on childcare and transportation costs.
Under these circumstances, Dalton and Sophia's new income of $56,000 exceeds 200% of the federal poverty level, meaning they are not categorized as living in poverty according to the census and would probably not qualify for assistance.
But the area median income is $76,000. Because the family's income does not exceed 80% of the Department of Housing and Urban Development's income limits for a family of four, Dalton and Sophia may qualify for some assistance through HUD.
Meanwhile, the self-sufficiency standard is measured by whether a family can meet its needs without public or private assistance. Dalton and Sophia would need to make $57,321 per year to meet that standard. Their current income falls slightly below this amount, but they have been able to save money on childcare because of Sophia's work-from-home job.
Reach Paige at 330-580-8577 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter at @paigembenn.
This article originally appeared on The Repository: Report: Stark County poverty rate slightly higher than U.S. rate