CINCINNATI -- Bad news for anyone who cares about local kids: Child poverty rates in Cincinnati and Hamilton County are on the rise.
The percentage of city and county residents younger than 18 living in poverty is the highest it has been in five years, according to new data from the U.S. Census Bureau's American Community Survey. However, the child poverty rate has decreased for the Greater Cincinnati region as a whole.
"The data doesn't tell a good story," said Ross Meyer, senior vice president and chief impact officer at United Way of Greater Cincinnati . "Regardless of the year-to-year changes, poverty is unacceptably high. It remains so, especially for families and especially for the youngest of children."
In the city of Cincinnati, in fact, half of all children under five are living in poverty, according to the new estimates. That amounts to nearly 11,000 babies and toddlers.
The increase comes as leaders from local businesses, nonprofits and faith organizations have been working with elected officials to reduce child poverty through the Child Poverty Collaborative .
The collaborative formed in 2015 and pledged to help 5,000 Cincinnati and Hamilton County families lift themselves and their 10,000 children out of poverty within five years.
Sister Sally Duffy, the interim chair of the Child Poverty Collaborative, called the new data "disheartening" but said it "emphasizes the need" for the collaborative.
‘If we're not on the same page, at least we're in the same book'
The group's early work required getting the broader community to understand the problem and to trust each other enough to work together to address it, said Pastor Ennis Tait of Ennis Tait Ministries.
"We spent a lot of time trying to put everybody in the room trying to get us on the same page," said Tait, a member of the collaborative's executive council. "If we're not on the same page, at least we're in the same book. And that's huge."
The organization had a setback in August when health concerns forced Karen Bankston to resign from her position as its executive director after less than a year on the job.
Duffy said the executive council and steering committee are still deciding how to move forward and should have an announcement soon.
One option would be to "embed" the organization more deeply in the United Way of Greater Cincinnati, which has been helping to manage its work, she said.
"No matter what happens," Duffy said, "the focus will always be on the collaborative part. We need a community collaborative that's a public and private partnership that's committed to reducing poverty and measuring poverty reduction."
The new census numbers show just how vexing that measurement can be.
Northern Kentucky's child poverty rate decreases
The new numbers are estimates for 2017 based on a year's worth of data.
Experts consider them less reliable than the data the Census Bureau releases each December, which are estimates based on five years worth of data.
However, they are useful for looking at trends.
Those trends still look positive for Boone, Campbell and Kenton counties in Northern Kentucky, which helps explain why the child poverty rate for the region fell a bit despite the increases in Cincinnati and Hamilton County.
In a separate release of information Wednesday, the Census Bureau announced a 0.4 percentage-point decrease in the poverty rate from 2016 to 2017. Although not statistically significant, the number represents the third consecutive annual decline.
The nation's child poverty rate didn't change significantly between 2016 and 2017, according to the release.
More information about the Child Poverty Collaborative is available online.
Lucy May writes about the people, places and issues that define our region – to celebrate what makes the Tri-State great and shine a spotlight on issues we need to address. Childhood poverty is an important focus for her and for WCPO. To read more stories about childhood poverty, go to www.wcpo.com/poverty .
To read more stories by Lucy, go to www.wcpo.com/may . To reach her, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @LucyMayCincy.