CINCINNATI -- Greater Cincinnati’s child poverty rate looks a bit better than last year.
But Cincinnati and Hamilton County still have a higher percentage of children living in poverty than they did just six years ago, according to new estimates released by the U.S. Census Bureau.
Nearly half of all children in the city of Cincinnati -- 44.6 percent -- live below the federal poverty level. That amounts to 28,811 kids.
In Hamilton County, more than one out of four children, or 26.1 percent, live in poverty. That represents 48,029 children.
And for the Tri-State as a whole, 19.4 percent, or nearly one in five children, live in households that are below the federal poverty level. That figure represents 98,824 kids.
All of those child poverty percentages are a bit lower than the American Community Survey estimates released last December, marking two years in a row that the region’s child poverty rates have declined.
But the child poverty rates in Cincinnati and Hamilton County remain a bit higher than estimates released five years ago.
“This is a huge challenge that we’re facing as a region, a county and a city that we have to take head on,” said Ross Meyer, senior vice president and chief impact officer at United Way of Greater Cincinnati.
Meyer appeared on Good Morning Tri-State on Dec. 13. Watch his live interview in the video player below.
United Way announced earlier this year that the organization would be investing the bulk of its money in efforts and organizations to reduce child poverty.
United Way also helps manage the work of the group of community and business leaders known as the Child Poverty Collaborative, which began working in 2016 to reduce child poverty in Cincinnati and Hamilton County. The Child Poverty Collaborative launched its One-to-One Learning Collaborative in September, starting the clock on its ambitious goal to help 10,000 children and 5,000 families lift themselves out of poverty in the next five years.
In Meyer’s view, the region’s poverty problem is even more widespread than the latest Census data indicate. Under federal poverty guidelines, a family of four is considered “poor” if its annual household income is $24,600 or less.
The United Way and other social service organizations maintain that it takes at least twice that amount for a family of four to meet its basic needs.
So United Way looks at the number of families with household incomes that are 200 percent of the federal poverty level or less. There are 614,268 people in the region who meet that definition, according to the latest Census data, or roughly 30 percent.
“To say that one in three people in our entire region are struggling to meet the basics -- are making decisions every week between paying a utility bill or paying for a prescription or putting food on the table,” Meyer said. “That’s the central challenge we are taking on.”
The role of race
The Census estimates released Thursday also painted a stark picture of the region’s racial divide when it comes to families and individuals living in poverty.
Although both Cincinnati and Hamilton County have more white residents than black residents, both also have a higher number of black residents living in poverty than white.
That is not just based on percentages. That is the number of people living in poverty, according to the Census estimates.
And the Tri-State region as a whole has nearly seven times as many white residents as black residents. The Census estimates there are more than 1.7 million white residents in the metropolitan region as compared to nearly 254,000 black residents.
But only twice as many white people in the Tri-State live in poverty compared with black people living in poverty.
The poverty rates are even starker. Among all the region’s black residents, 33.1 percent live in poverty. Only about 11 percent of the region’s white residents live in poverty, according to the data.
“The racial disparities are glaring,” Meyer said. “Those trends have just continued if not gotten worse.”
The Greater Cincinnati Urban League and the Urban League of Greater Southwestern Ohio sought to draw attention to those disparities in 2015 with a report called The State of Black Cincinnati 2015: Two Cities. But the problem didn’t seem to capture the attention of the community in a lasting way, said Donna Jones Baker, the CEO of the Urban League of Greater Southwestern Ohio and a co-chair of the Child Poverty Collaborative.
“It raises the issue of whether or not poverty, child poverty and race are important enough issues to put our might behind it,” she said. “This community is famous for getting it done when it cares about issues.”
But the broader community also tends to blame people for being poor, Baker said.
“Somehow or another as a community, we think they have done something wrong,” she said, when in fact there are systems in place that keep people in poverty.
“I’m not sure that we’ve really taken to heart that we’ve created these systems and policies and practices and rules and regulations that keep people in poverty. We did it,” she said. “We can undo it. That’s the tragedy of it all. But we have to be intentional about solving the issue of poverty. And we can do it in less than a generation. We can do it.”
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.