Wednesday, November 21, 2001

City near top in Ohio for child poverty

34.8% of kids are poor, new Census survey finds

By Ken Alltucker
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        More than one in three Cincinnati children live in poverty, the second-highest rate among major Ohio cities, according to new Census estimates.

        Yet despite the high rate of poverty among children, the estimates — which are preliminary — show that prospects are a little better for families with young children.

        The robust economy of the 1990s, welfare reform and smaller family sizes might have combined to lift some young families out of poverty, experts say.

        “Over the last six years, we've seen this phenomenal change,” said Donald Troendle, director of the Cincinnati Metropolitan Housing Authority. “We've seen a 70 percent drop in the number of families who were on assistance.”

        The Census figures released Tuesday showed 34.8 percent of Cincinnati children who are living with related family members are poor. Of the city's 331,285 residents, 81,144 are 17 and under, according to the 2000 Census. The poverty numbers do not include some children, such as foster children.

        Only Cleveland has a higher childhood poverty rate, 38.1 percent, among the six largest Ohio cities.

        But things improve for Cincinnati children under the age of 5, with about one out of five (22.1 percent) living in poverty. That's the lowest rate among six major Ohio cities.

        An average family of four earning $17,603 or less is considered poor.

        The numbers are just a snapshot of Cincinnati, experts warn. The faltering economy could have easily wiped out the fragile gains made by the city's poorest, said Michael Maloney, founder of the Urban Appalachian Council.

        “My best guess is that reflects an improvement in the economy,” Mr. Maloney said. “I don't think those statistics would hold with the downturn.”

        Another pivotal factor is the data itself. The poverty stats are culled from the Census 2000 Supplemental Survey — a statistical sampling of 2,865 Cincinnati, Hamilton County and Butler County residents that coincided with the actual 2000 head count, which will be released next year.

        The survey data is considered less accurate than the actual head count and includes large margins for error for a variety of poverty, income and social statistics because it's such a small survey number.

        Nevertheless, officials say other evidence points to some improvements for the area's poorest, Mr. Troendle said.

        For instance, low-income families renting from the housing authority pay 40 percent more for subsidized housing than they did in 1994, a rental increase triggered by income gains by the families, Mr. Troendle said.

        During the 1990s, the housing authority also remodeled many of its larger homes with several rooms to accommodate a growing demand from smaller families, Mr. Troendle said.

        Mr. Maloney warns that the economic downturn coupled with federal and state cuts that fund programs that the poor depend on — such as domestic abuse prevention and child care — have wiped out any real gains.

        He said the poor spend more time away from their children working multiple jobs — a change from the patterns of the poor a decade ago.

        “The economy needs to start improving, and we need to reverse the trend of cuts in expenditures to help working families,” Mr. Maloney said.

        Some other new statistics on Cincinnati's poor show:

        • 23.7 percent of city residents receive some type of public assistance. Only Cleveland had a higher percentage (36.2 percent) of residents on public assistance.

        • 10.5 percent of city residents receive food stamps.

        • 7.9 percent of city households get free or discounted school lunches.


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