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Published: Friday, 2/1/2013

Poverty numbers for Toledoans rose 53.3% between 1999 and 2011

BY KATE GIAMMARISE
BLADE STAFF WRITER

One in every six Ohioans and nearly a quarter of all Ohio children — including almost a third of those under age 6 — lives in poverty, according to a report released this week.

In total, more than 1.8 million Ohioans live in poverty, a number that has increased tremendously in the last decade, the study reported. Poverty increased by 57.7 percent in Ohio between 1999 and 2011, a time during which the state’s population grew by just 1 percent.

The federal poverty level for a family of four is an annual household income of about $23,000.

The annual report, State of Poverty 2012, is from the Ohio Association of Community Action Agencies, an organization representing Ohio’s 50 community action agencies, which run a number of programs for low-income individuals.

“The study confirmed everything that we see every day ... more people needing more food more frequently,” said Lisa Hamler-Fugitt, executive director of the Ohio Association of Foodbanks.

Ms. Hamler-Fugitt said Ohio is still hampered by long-term unemployment and wage stagnation.

Most troubling, she said, is the “poverty despite work” phenomenon, citing the study’s finding that 42 percent of impoverished Ohioans are employed and 1 in 12 individuals in poverty has a bachelor’s degree.

Poverty among Toledoans grew by 53.3 percent between 1999 and 2011, with 84,154 city residents living below the poverty line in 2011 — 30.1 percent of the population — up from 54,903, or 17.9 percent of Toledo residents, in 1999. “That’s indicative of the major recession that had a hold on the entire country,” said Jen Sorgenfrei, spokesman for Toledo Mayor Mike Bell.

Deb Ortiz-Flores, director of the Lucas County Department of Job and Family Services, said the high numbers for childhood poverty are reflected in the programs her office administers, such as the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, commonly referred to as food stamps.

“We know that about 50 percent of the people on food assistance are children,” she said. Childhood poverty can have far-reaching effects, she added.

“If kids don’t have a bed to sleep in, if they don’t have food for breakfast, if they don’t have electricity in their house ... those are all indicators of [poorer] school performance,” she said.

Among Ohio’s other large metro areas, Canton had the highest portion of low-income residents: 37.8 percent of its residents lived in poverty in 2011. In Parma, a large Cleveland suburb, the 144.5 percent increase in poverty was the highest percentage jump.

Study data showed the greatest percentage poverty increases in Ohio’s suburban counties — 167,914 people, or 69.9 percent growth — compared with urban and rural counties. However, Ohio’s core urban counties still contain most of Ohio’s poor with 57.3 percent.

Phil Cole, executive director of OACAA, said he expects improved numbers in future reports thanks to a rebound in manufacturing employment and the potential for jobs related to exploration of the Utica Shale oil and gas fields in eastern Ohio.

Similarly, Ms. Sorgenfrei said unemployment in Toledo has declined as the auto industry has recovered.

“Probably two years from now, you’ll see some better numbers,” Mr. Cole said.

Contact Kate Giammarise at: kgiammarise@theblade.com or 419-724-6091, or on Twitter @KateGiammarise.



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