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Ohio’s poverty rate increased to 13.4% in 2021, according to new report




Collection of canned food items in a pantry (File photo courtesy of Salvation Army USA West / Flickr / CC BY)

Ohio’s poverty rate increased from 12.7% to 13.4% in 2021 — the first time in more than a decade it has increased year-to-year, according to the Ohio Association of Community Action Agencies latest State of Poverty report.

Scioto County in Southern Ohio had the highest overall poverty rate in 2021 with 23.9% and the highest family poverty rate with 18%. Ohio’s family poverty rate was 9.3% in 2021.

Cuyahoga County’s poverty rate was 16.2%, Franklin County’s was 14.3%, Hamilton County’s was 15.7%, and Lucas County’s was 17.4%.

OACAA’s report zeroed on the negative effects of COVID-19 learning loss in schools, lack of public transportation, and unequal access to mental health care.

“Though these issues have been felt in some ways across the income spectrum, they have disproportionately impacted low-income Ohioans,” OACAA Executive Director Philip E. Cole said Monday during a press conference.

This is the 30th year OACAA, which represents 48 agencies that serves more than 600,000 Ohioans annually, has issued a report on the State of Poverty.

“We often say that poverty is caused by peoples’ poor choices and many times it is, but more times it is caused by the choices of us as a society,” Cole said. “Society has the resources to keep people out of poverty and become economically self-sufficient, but all too often we do not ensure equal or even fair access to those resources.”

Learning loss

Learning loss from the COVID-19 pandemic affected low-income students more than wealthier districts, according to the report.

Test scores from Ohio students in high-poverty urban school districts fell more than 13% while test scores from suburban school students dropped only 3%, according to the report which used data from The 74, a nonprofit news organization.

“This is very much a story of lack of resources and it is not just in low-income urban areas,” Cole said. “Test scores also dropped in lower-income rural areas like Appalachia and the farmlands in Northern Ohio.”

Lack of computers and access to broadband made remote learning tough for some students.

“There was harm that could not be avoided from the pandemic and much of it was caused by the unequal access to resources for lower-income students while schools were closed,” Cole said. “A student could not attend virtually if they did not have the tools.”

Making up for the pandemic’s K-12 learning loss and making higher education more affordable were two solutions OACAA identified in their report.

This report comes a little more then a week after the United States Supreme Court blocked President Joe Biden’s student loan forgiveness plan — which would have wiped away $400 billion in student loan debt for borrowers.

“The problem with student debt is that it holds back an entire generation,” Cole said. “The unwillingness of the states to cover the cost of public colleges and universities has really held back an entire generation.”

Public transportation

OACAA made a call to fund public transportation in Ohio, especially as more jobs come to Ohio with the arrival of Intel’s chip manufacturing factory in Licking County.

“Cars are expensive,” Cole said. “Repairing cars is expensive.”

Only 63 of Ohio’s 88 counties have public transportation. Most of the other counties have a specialized service, but five counties have nothing at all, according to OACAA’s report.

“They have on-demand services like Uber,” Cole said. “That is not a way to get to work.”

Mental health

A fourth of Ohio’s counties have no mental health providers registered with Medicaid, according to the Ohio Department of Medicaid — meaning those Ohioans have limited access to mental health providers.

An additional eight counties have a ratio of less than one mental health provider registered with Medicaid per 5,000 residents, according to OACAA’s report.

“The shortage or complete lack of mental health care providers in many of our counties, all rural, makes the lack of transportation problem even more pronounced,” Cole said.

More than 12,000 Ohioans have used the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline each month since the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline moved to 988 last July.

“While this is an important step, I don’t believe it serves a s a replacement for in-person counseling,” Cole said. “We need to do more to encourage people to to pursue counseling careers and then to incentivize them to practice in these high demand locations.”

This story was republished from the Ohio Capital Journal under a Creative Commons license.

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