Columbus - The Ohio Association of Community Action Agencies (OACAA) released its 2023 State of Poverty in Ohio Report on July 10th. The annual report analyzed credible data to highlight trends in poverty and barriers that could be interfering with Ohioans' paths to self-sufficiency.
According to OACAA, the poverty rate in Ohio increased from 12.7 percent to 13.4 percent in 2021. It was the first time in more than a decade that the poverty rate increased year over year. The report indicated the poverty rate in Cuyahoga County had hit 16.2 percent and that more than 36,000 Cuyahoga County families were living at or below the Federal Poverty Guidelines.
In the report, OACAA highlighted three areas of focus including:
Pandemic Learning Loss
Citing the Nation's Report Card, OACAA confirmed several school districts experienced a decline in reading and math scores throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. In Ohio, economically disadvantaged students who came from very high poverty areas saw a 13.5 percent decline in their test scores whereas those who came from suburban school districts saw a three-percent decline.
"These findings highlight that students in low-income households were more vulnerable to the disruptions brought about by COVID-19, and their recovery from those disruptions may last longer as well," OACAA pointed out.
The Ohio Association of Community Action Agencies noted in its report that Ohio is currently experiencing a shortage of mental health workers. About 56 Ohio counties reported having one mental health worker per 500 residents. About 18 counties reported having one mental health worker per 1,000 residents. Worse yet, less than a quarter of the state's counties reported having a mental health worker registered with Medicaid. That statistic means individuals who rely on Medicaid may have limited or no access to mental health assistance where they live.
In Cuyahoga County, Step Forward continues to offer individual and family counseling at no cost to those who are eligible. The agency has acknowledged the links between poverty and mental health; those who are experiencing poverty are more likely to experience mental health issues, and those experiencing mental health issues are more likely to experience poverty.
“By tending to the whole person, we strive to empower individuals to overcome the challenges they are facing and to build a brighter future,” Golliday said. “Together, we are creating a safe and compassionate space where healing and transformation can take place, ensuring that no one walks their journey alone.”
According to OACAA, only 63 of Ohio's 88 counties are served by a public transit system. The organization said the state's availability and use of public transit lags behind the nation as a whole, which deeply affects families experiencing poverty.
"Lower-income families are less able to afford the costs of owning and maintaining one or more vehicles, and factors such as urban sprawl and lack of affordable housing can push those families into areas far removed from employment opportunities and economic centers," OACAA stated. "Given that a quarter of Ohioans work outside their county of residence, a significant number of low-income families may be far removed from work centers."
OACAA went on to say that Ohio spends just $6 per capita on public transit, which is far less than the national average of $60 per capita.
Digging deeper into the State of Poverty in Cuyahoga County
The 2023 State of Poverty in Ohio Report shows the poverty rate in Cuyahoga County is now at 16.2 percent. That means more than 197,000 people are living in poverty. More than 23-percent of children under the age of 18 were said to be living in poverty.
"As the state’s designated anti-poverty agency for Cuyahoga County, Step Forward is deeply moved by the insights revealed in the 2023 State of Poverty in Ohio Report,” Derek Cluse, Step Forward’s Chief Operating Officer, said. “The profound impact of pandemic learning loss, the struggles to access mental health services and the barriers to transportation are taking a toll on the lives of our fellow Ohioans, particularly those living within a limited means. Step Forward’s commitment to change is personal and genuine, fueled by the stories of resilience we encounter every day. We are uplifted by compassion, opportunity, and the unwavering determination to build a more equitable society for all.”
Throughout 2023, Step Forward confirms it has experienced increased demand for financial aid, including rental assistance and home energy assistance.
“The overwhelming demand for rental assistance in 2023 has surpassed our expectations,” Travena Golliday, Step Forward’s Director of Neighborhood Opportunity Centers, acknowledged. “We accept 250 rental assistance applications at a time to process the paperwork in a timely manner and the timeframe in which our system is open has been decreasing each week, sometimes down to a matter of hours.”
Step Forward continues to offer several programs to help those in need, including early education programs such as Early Head Start and Head Start, personal development such as Baby and Mommy Support, counseling and more, professional development including job and skills training and employment connection, emergency assistance, and the Home Energy Assistance Program. All of the agency's programs and services are available at no cost to income-eligible individuals and families in Cuyahoga County.
For more information about Step Forward, click here.