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Ohio United Way Unveils Financial Hardship Study

Oct 4, 2017

An Ohio United Way report reveals that 40% of the state’s households lack enough income to afford basic needs. Details of the nearly 300-page analysis were discussed at Wednesday’s Columbus Metropolitan Club forum. 

Mike Foley reports.

The ALICE report evaluates what’s considered a survival budget to cover the basic needs of housing, food, health care, child care and transportation. The ALICE acronym identifies families that are Asset Limited, Income Constrained & Employed. Of the 4.6 million households in Ohio, nearly 1.2 million are considered ALICE. So, 26% of Ohio households have income above the Federal Poverty Level, meaning they don’t qualify for aid - but they’re below what’s considered the basic cost-of-living threshold. The study combines that percentage with households in poverty, currently measured at 14 percent, for a snapshot of the households struggling. With regard to specific municipalities, the ALICE measurement varies from a low of 22% in Delaware and Warren Counties to a high of 56% in Athens County. Franklin County measured 24 percent. Ohio United Way president & CEO Steven Hollon offered additional startling statistics.   

“According to the Federal Reserve in 2015, 47% of the households could not cover an emergency expense of $400. And then, 24% of Ohio households do not have enough net worth to live at the poverty level for 6 months. They work two jobs, and they are surviving. But they are not moving up the socio-economic ladder. It’s not enough to save for an emergency that may come along.”

Reasons why there are so many ALICE households include the abundance of low wage jobs in Ohio, so the basic cost of living continues to outpace wages. Jo’el Thomas-Jones spoke as part of the Columbus Metropolitan Club panel, sharing a story of how she lost her job after several years with a company that changed ownership. She spent the next 9 and a half months searching for a job while depleting her savings that she worked so long to build up. Currently the director of Energy Assistance Programs with the Community Action Partnership of Greater Dayton, Thomas-Jones referred to ALICE as the new look of poverty.

“So when we talk about struggling families, at least I have an image – maybe homeless, shoddy housing. But what we’re finding is that ALICE lives right next door, they’re at the football games on Friday, they’re walking their dogs. So what are we doing in Dayton – everything we possibly can to make sure these families are plugged in and connected. But it’s difficult because sometimes ALICE families don’t consider themselves to be those that would take part in social services.”

The problem extends beyond the social service spectrum, according to Akron deputy mayor and chief of staff James Hardy. He expects it to be an issue city and county governments must address.

“We know those living below the federal poverty line. We have structures in place. We can debate how effective they are, but they’re in place. But what happens if you make just enough that you don’t qualify for that. We don’t have a lot of structures in place. This is really one of the greatest challenges Ohio cities are going to face -- the inability to make enough and support your family at the same time.”

With the report, Ohio United Way hopes to draw awareness to the problem and at least begin a conversation to figure out the best strategies and policies. It’s a discussion United Way leaders hope to have with municipalities and service groups but also employers.