Nearly half of Cincinnati's children are poor as poverty continues to grow across the Tri-State

'It's a very desperate situation'

This story originally published in December 2014.

CINCINNATI – Greater Cincinnati is getting poorer.

The number of people living in poverty in the Tri-State has grown significantly just since 2010. Even more troubling: nearly one in five children in the 14-county region lives in a household that earns less than the federal poverty rate.  

In the city of Cincinnati, the numbers are much worse: Nearly one in three Cincinnati residents are poor and almost half of the city's children live in poverty. Those numbers are nearly double the national rates.

Those are some of the sobering numbers released Thursday by the U.S. Census American Community Survey.

Brian Niesz | WCPO

The overall poverty rate in the city has increased nearly 12 percent since 2010, according to Census data. That represents 90,334 people total, including 29,669 kids. 

One faith leader likened Cincinnati's childhood poverty rate to a Biblical catastrophe.

"In essence, we're throwing half our babies into the Ohio River of poverty to sink or swim," said the Rev. Troy Jackson, director of The Amos Project, a group of congregations in Greater Cincinnati that is dedicated to improving the community. "We know it's a very desperate situation, and very few make it out without being deeply impacted."

Brian Niesz | WCPO

As worrisome as the latest numbers are, they do not come as a surprise to the people and organizations working to fight poverty in the city and throughout the region.

Freestore Foodbank workers saw a 20 percent increase in the number of families and individuals seeking food for their Thanksgiving meals this year from the food bank and the 260 food pantries it helps supply, said CEO Kurt Reiber.

"We can see a downward spiral in terms of the folks who continue to need our services," he said. "This past Thanksgiving was a pretty good snapshot of what we've seen through most of 2014."

The Census data released Thursday represents five-year average estimates taken from 2010 through 2013. The data showed higher rates of poverty here than in such cities as St. Louis, Chicago, Pittsburgh or Columbus.

Some efforts are under way to tackle the problem locally.

• Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley unveiled his Hand Up Initiative in September. It's a targeted effort to move 4,000 poor Cincinnati residents out of poverty and into long-term employment in its first four years.

• The Amos Project in October launched the Exodus Campaign specifically to combat childhood poverty in Cincinnati. Jackson said the campaign would look at the root causes of poverty and advocate for various ways to address them.

The key will be sustaining such efforts over the long haul, said Dave Phillips, the co-founder of Cincinnati Works, a nonprofit that helps poor people become self-sufficient by getting good jobs.

Cincinnati Works has been around for 18 years and helps roughly 700 people each year find long-term employment, he said. But it takes as many as eight to 10 years for people to earn the kind of pay they need to be truly self-sufficient, he said. That's because most of the nonprofit's clients need additional training that takes time to get while they juggle their jobs and responsibilities as parents.

"It takes a lot of different people all going down the same track, focusing on poverty and doing everything they possibly can to change this growing cancer," Phillips said.

"You can get discouraged with this, but poverty is not an acceptable condition," he said. "We need more people that are saying, 'This is not my community. I'm going to do something about it.'"

Follow Mark Nichols on Twitter @nicholsmarkc.

For more stories by Lucy May go to www.wcpo.com/may. Follow her on Twitter @LucyMayCincy.

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