United Way: 40 percent of Ohio households struggle to pay basic expenses

Oct 4, 2017

As published on Akron Beacon Journal/Ohio.com on October 4, 2017

By Rick Armon
Beacon Journal staff writer

Forty percent of Ohio households struggle to pay for basic living expenses, a new statewide study says.

The United Way’s ALICE Report — it stands for “Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed” — paints a sobering picture of financial hardship in the state even for those living above the federal poverty level.

“Ohioans are tough and resilient, but many are living on the edge,” Ohio United Way President and Chief Executive Officer Steven Hollon writes in the 183-page report released Wednesday.

While 14 percent of Ohio households lived in poverty in 2015, there were another 26 percent — or 1.2 million households — were above the poverty level but that didn’t have enough income to meet its basic needs of housing, transportation, child care, food and health care costs, the report says.

That percentage has grown since the Great Recession.

“We are talking about people who face an incredible amount of barriers and struggles every day but they are making an attempt,” said Jim Mullen, president and CEO of the United Way of Summit County. “We need to change the mental model of what the working poor look like.”

The average Ohio family of four, including two adults, an infant and preschooler, needs a household budget of $60,396 to survive, for example, but the median annual household income in the state was $51,075.

The federal poverty level in 2015 for a family of four was $24,250.

“This isn’t about the people who are unemployed or don’t work,” Mullen said. “We’re talking about the people who are going to work and just can’t get ahead.”

These so-called ALICE households — those working but not earning enough — are forced to make tough decisions such as forgoing health care, accredited child care, healthy food, car insurance and saving, the report says.

The gap exists for many families despite a combination of having a job and receiving some public assistance.

Part of the problem is that more than 67 percent of jobs in Ohio pay less than $40,000 a year and those low-income jobs are projected to dominate the state economy, according to the report.

All walks of life

The financial difficulties stretch across all geographic boundaries, ages and races.

The youngest age group — those under 25 — had the highest share of both struggling and poverty-level households, with 45 percent living in poverty and another 33 percent considered struggling households

The ALICE Report also breaks down the statistics by county and municipality.

The United Way noted that the percentage of households living in poverty or struggling in Summit County was right at the state average of 40 percent.

But it was much higher in Akron, where 24 percent lived below the poverty level and another 33 percent were classified as struggling ALICE households.

The high figures in Akron weren’t surprising to the United Way, which has focused new attention on the working poor, Mullen said.

Familiar with facts

Malcolm Costa, president/CEO of Akron Summit Community Action, also wasn’t caught off guard because of the help the agency provides with tax returns, financial literacy, utility assistance and Head Start programs.

“There are a lot of folks that based on our work and our contact, they kind of go in and out of circumstances where they are struggling,” he said.

The general public, though, likely will be shocked to learn that more than half of Akron’s population and nearly half of the county’s are struggling.

“The statistics are very eye-opening,” Mullen said.

The United Way of Summit County is partnering with the city of Akron to open “Financial Empowerment Centers” in Akron next year to help residents with their finances.

Medina County had one of the lowest overall percentage of households in the state living in poverty or struggling at 28 percent.

Only Delaware, Geauga, Hancock and Warren were lower.

Rick Armon can be reached at 330-996-3569 or [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter at @armonrickABJ.

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