The city of Athens has the highest poverty rate in the country for any city its size or larger. Athens County has the highest poverty rate in the state.
Those two statements should alarm and outrage the people of Athens County.
New U.S. Census figures for 2005-2007 show that 52.3 percent of the people in the city of Athens are living in poverty. The figures also show that 31.6 percent of the people of Athens County are living in poverty.
While Ohio University students have an impact on the survey, the Census figures show that the poverty rate in the city is very high even if the students are not counted.
· 50.4 percent, of the children under the age of five in Athens live in poverty.
· 34.6 percent of the city residents who are 18 years old or younger live in poverty.
· 30.5 percent of the married couples with children under the age of five live in poverty.
· 48.8 percent of the families with a female head of household live in poverty.
· 100 percent of the families with a female head of household that have children under the age of five live in poverty.
The Census figures also show the poverty problem for all of Athens County.
· Athens County has the fourth-highest rate in the state of children under the age of 18 living in poverty at 32.4 percent. The state average is 18.5 percent.
· Athens County has the eighth-highest rate in the state for people over the age of 65 living below the poverty level at 13.3 percent. The state average is 8.4 percent.
· Athens County has by far the lowest percent of employed civilians over the age of 16 working in manufacturing. Just 5.6 percent of employed civilians work in manufacturing. The state average is 17 percent, and the highest average is 38.5 percent in Shelby County.
· Athens County also has the highest percentage, again by a wide margin, of employed civilians over the age of 16 who work in service occupations. In the county, 25.1 percent of employed people work in the service industry. The state average is 16.5 percent, and the lowest percent is in 11.9 percent in Delaware County.
The Census numbers show that the students are not the main reason the city’s poverty rate is so high. Athens has a higher poverty rate than other college towns in Ohio such as Bowling Green, Kent and Oxford. The figures show that a very high number of non-students in the city live in poverty.
For the county, the figures clearly show how children, senior citizens and residents of all ages are living in poverty. The county has very few manufacturing jobs where people can make high-paying wages, but has a large number of low-paying, service industry jobs.
The county also has a high number of professional jobs through Ohio University, Hocking College and other institutions, but these jobs are not as accessible as manufacturing positions. Often, the professional jobs are filled by people who move into the area.
Also, there is no reason why the students should not count in the Census figures or why their presence here should allow anyone to downplay the poverty problem.
The students all live in Athens and use city and county services. While they contribute to the university, which creates job and benefits the community, for the most part they do not pay local property taxes or income taxes that help pay for government services. They also do not spend much money at businesses outside of the area near campus.
· The city of Athens has the lowest percentage in the state of married couple households, according to the Census figures. The rate in the city is 24.9 percent while the state average is 49.2 percent.
· The city has the lowest percentage in the state for owner-occupied homes. The rate in the city is 32.1 percent, while the state average is 70 percent.
· The cities that have the highest percentages of married couple households and the highest percentage of owner occupied homes are among the cities that have the lowest poverty levels in the state.
· The city has the second highest rate in the state for people who lived in different homes one year ago. The rate in Athens is 62.1 percent, while Oxford has the highest rate at 63.3 percent. The state average is 15.5 percent.
· The city also has the lowest rate of people who drive to work (or school). In Athens, the rate is 41.2 percent, while statewide the percent is 83.1 percent.
The figures show the city is filled with students who are here for a short time, do not have large incomes and do not impact the community in the way that stable families who own their own homes and have large incomes would.
The state and federal governments need to do more to help the people in need. Cash assistance, which only gets an eligible family up to nearly one-third of the federal poverty level, needs to be increased by $100 per month.
In addition, monthly food stamps funding, which only provides for enough food for two weeks, needs to provide enough food for an entire month. Health care services must be available to all adults who live below the federal poverty level. Disability income must be increased. Funding for mental health and substance abuse counseling for families living below the poverty level must be increased.
All of these programs help those in need, and they help the community as a whole. Studies show that public assistance programs stimulate the economy, because the people who receive the funding spend it at local businesses. For every $1 spent in food stamps, for example, $1.73 goes into the local economy.
We can’t just ignore or downplay these poverty figures, or ignore or downplay these people living in need. It’s time to take action to help.
For more information, contact Nick Claussen, community relations coordinator for Athens County Job and Family Services, at (740) 797-2523 or firstname.lastname@example.org.