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Report shows rate of Ohioans in poverty rose for first time in a decade

 Volunteer H.Tereé Harris prepares bags of potatoes for distribution.
Ryan Loew
Ideastream Public Media
Volunteer H.Tereé Harris prepares bags of potatoes to give out at the Greater Cleveland Food Bank's Thanksgiving food distribution on Thursday, Nov. 17, 2022.

The number of Ohioans in poverty rose for the first time in a decade, according to a report prepared for the state’s community action agencies, which work with low-income people to get them to self-sufficiency.

The 30th annual State of Poverty report says 13.4% of Ohioans are in poverty, up from 12.7%. And the rate of people living in poverty for at least two consecutive months during a two-year period – called episodic poverty – is nine times higher than chronic poverty, which is being in poverty for an entire two-year period. Households can end up in poverty because of a job loss, an unexpected expense or a crisis. Many low-income people were affected, the report says, when housing, Medicaid and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits offered during the pandemic ended when the federal government ended the public health emergency declaration in May.

“We often say that poverty is caused by people's poor choices, and many times it is. But more times it is caused by the choices we make as a society," said Phil Cole, executive director of the Ohio Association of Community Action Agencies.

The report recommends more investment in overcoming pandemic learning loss. While Ohio students had a 6.4% decrease in test scores between 2019 and 2022, economically disadvantaged students saw test score drop 10.2%. In wealthier suburban districts, test scores dropped 3.3%, while in high-poverty urban districts, scores fell 13.5%. The report also noted need-based state funding for higher education is 29% lower than the national average.

A lack of mental health providers for low-income Ohioans is another concern. The report said 56 counties have one mental health worker for every 500 residents, and 18 counties have one mental health worker per 1,000 residents. One quarter of Ohio's 88 counties have no mental health providers registered with Medicaid. Another eight counties have only one provider registered with Medicaid per 5,000 residents.

"It's very difficult, emotionally, to be poor because you're fighting to get by," Cole said. "You're always under stress."

The report also cited a lack of transportation as a major factor in poverty. Ohio spends around $6 per capita on public transit, the report said, compared to a national average of around $60 per capita, and 23 counties have no public transit system. More than a fifth of workers using public transit are under the poverty line. For those hoping to buy cars, the report said Ohio's average used car prices are the third highest in the country. A typical buyer of a used car with a low credit score will pay as much as $1,350 more because of a higher interest rate.

While the federal poverty level is often used by advocates, the level needed for self-sufficiency is a higher bar. The report said annual income needed to get by with no public assistance is different throughout the state. For a family of four, the report said here's the yearly income needed for self-sufficiency:

  • Coshocton County $55,557 or $13.15/hour
  • Tuscarawas County $62,687 or $14.84/hour
  • Warren County $72,372 or $17.13/hour

The state's minimum wage is $10.10/hour.
The state budget includes $793 million in funding for broadband, which Cole said will be especially helpful to low-income people in rural areas. It also includes $39.5 million each year for food banks and $8.4 million for school meals for some 80,000 K-12 students.

Contact Karen at 614-578-6375 or at
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