More than 43,000 Akronites, or 30 percent, live in poverty in the city’s urban core, compared with 31,000 people in poverty in 2000, according to a newly released report called “State of Poverty: A Portrait of Ohio Families.”
Commissioned by the Ohio Association of Community Action Agencies, the report notes an increase in poverty in both urban and suburban neighborhoods, along with an even larger population of people who are teetering close to poverty. In the surrounding suburbs of Akron’s urban core, for example, the population in poverty has increased 57 percent between 2000 and 2015, adds the report, which analyzes U.S. Census data.
This increase in suburban poverty is a statewide trend, says Kathryn A. Clausen, communications director for the Ohio Association of Community Action Agencies. “It’s not all concentrated in urban areas. In some rural areas it’s extremely high,” she adds. “It’s everywhere. It’s your neighbor; it’s our neighbor.”
While Akron’s population declined almost 10 percent between 2000 and 2015, the change in our poor population has increased almost 40 percent, notes the report.
“Alleviating poverty in Akron is one of my top priorities,” says Akron Mayor Dan Horrigan. “While these statistics can be discouraging, they are not surprising. Like many communities, Akron was hit hard by the recession of the late 2000s and is still working hard to recover. That is why I’ve focused all of my policies on improving the income, education and health of all Akron residents.”
In his recent State of the City address, Horrigan said that the best antidote to crime and poor health is a job. “And the pathway to jobs is also pretty well known – it’s an education,” he says, adding that his first year in office was spent meeting with business leaders and students, looking for better ways to connect them. The arrival of Stark State College in downtown Akron also will help toward filling this “skills gap” and preparing residents for living wage jobs, Horrigan adds.
Another finding of the report is the increase of grandparent caregivers, which could be tied to the growing opiate epidemic. There are nearly 40,000 grandparent households, where grandparents are caring for grandchildren without parents present, across Ohio and one in five of these grandparent households lives in poverty, the report adds.
“I don’t want to pinpoint it on one cause, but the opiate crisis in Ohio is obviously a contributing factor,” says Clausen, who adds that the grandparent metric data is new.
Many residents who are not technically in poverty are teetering close to that line: nearly half of Ohio households lack the liquid assets needed to stay out of poverty for three months, or what the report calls “asset poverty,” meaning households that lack the financial cushion to withstand a crisis.
Summit County ranks 48th of 88 counties overall of children who are in poverty (21 percent), the report states, adding that one in four college students statewide may struggle with food insecurity. In fact, 12 Ohio colleges and universities (including the University of Akron and Kent State University) have food pantries on campus.
According to the Summit County Community Health Assessment, the county’s unemployment rate is 6 percent and the poverty rate is 14.3 percent. As far as affordability, while the cost of rent is relatively low here, almost 50 percent of renters spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing.
Also, according to the Health Assessment, the majority of people in Summit County have an annual income between $10,000 and $49,000. Median income is $27,615. Only 23 percent make $50,000 or more.
These issues of jobs and money are also directly tied to education and health, the assessment adds.
Horrigan has created an Akron Growth Council to advise him on economic development strategies to bring more businesses and new jobs to Akron. He’s also developed a Planning to Grow Akron housing strategy, which includes a plan for residential property tax abatement, designed to jumpstart the housing market in Akron and infuse new private investment in all Akron neighborhoods.
Other items of note from the report:
* A single parent with two children must work 109 hours per week to reach self-sufficiency at minimum wage (which is why people who are lower income may work multiple jobs to make ends meet).
* Across Ohio, the poverty rate among African-Americans is the highest at 32 percent.
* Over the last 15 years, the population of Ohio has grown by only 2.4 percent, but the poor
population has grown by 54.1 percent.
* Urban areas have seen a decrease in population over this 15-year period but a
substantial increase in poverty.
* Suburban areas have seen the largest increase in poor population between 2000 and 2015, at 76 percent.
* Children under 6 in Ohio experience the highest poverty rate (25.4 percent) among child age groups.
* Ohio’s child food insecurity rate (23.8 percent) is higher than the U.S. rate (20.9 percent).
To read the “2016 State of Poverty” report, visit http://oacaa.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/SOP2016_low.pdf.