Mahoning Valley neighbors live in poverty

Published Sunday, December 18, 2011, in The Vindicator(Link), December 21, 2011, in the Record Courier(Link), and January 22, 2012, in The Akron Beacon Journal(Link)

By DOUG LIVINGSTON
TheNewsOutlet.Org

Shadowed by a harrowing drug addiction, a 53-year-old Mahoning County man has only memories of what life used to be like to comfort his nights sleeping alone on a cot at a rescue mission.

A Wayne County divorcee supports her three kids on $1,280 a month from a thrift store salary and public assistance. After earning a master’s degree in education and struggling to find a steady teaching position, an 84-year-old Stark County woman who survived the Great Depression walks daily from her government-subsidized apartment to the local YWCA for a free meal that she otherwise couldn’t afford.

Faces of Poverty
Click to read their stories

These are the stories of those living in poverty among Ohio’s northeastern counties. In a bleak economy, the News Outlet wondered if the stereotypical portrait of those struggling had been altered. The profiles presented provide a glimpse into the complicated personal, political and economic turns that contribute to the struggles of the impoverished.

They’ve lost homes to foreclosure.

Their families to drugs and alcohol.

Their dreams to poverty.

The 2005-2009 American Community Survey (PDF) , prepared by the Ohio Department of Development and released in April, has reaffirmed historically higher poverty rates in Ohio’s urban centers — Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati. But, as a whole, the state is spackled with poverty.

The worst counties hug the Ohio River from Cincinnati to Columbiana County then turn north along the Pennsylvania state line.

In the past decade, Ohio’s poverty population has increased by 46 percent, according to U.S. Census data.

The most recent reports place 1.7 million Ohioans beneath the federal poverty line, scaled from a maximum individual income of $10,890 up to a family of four living on $22,350 or less annually. The Ohio Department of Development report suggested an additional 2 million people are “more or less close to being poor.”

Aside from Cuyahoga County, two Northeast Ohio poverty rates are among the state’s highest — Trumbull at 18.2 percent, Mahoning at 17.1 percent and Columbiana at 17.7 percent.

The poverty rate for Medina (7.6 percent) is among the lowest in the region. Eight Ohio counties, clustered in the southern Appalachian region, had poverty rates higher than 20 percent.

Unemployment has exacerbated poverty in Northeast Ohio, and residents such as Youngstown’s Jimmy Ceballos often forego paying bills and mortgages to pay for food and shelter.

In the 1990s, Ceballos could pick up a side job with little effort. Today, the former handyman wakes up and extinguishes the burn barrel that kept him warm the night before in one of Youngstown’s 4,500 vacant structures.

Ohio’s unemployment rate has grown from 5.6 percent in January 2008 to 9 percent in October 2011, according to U.S. Department of Labor statistics.

Youngstown is among the worst (PDF). With 9.6 percent of the area’s work force unemployed in September, only three other metropolitan areas in Ohio — Steubenville, Toledo and Mansfield — posted higher unemployment rates, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

“It’s just been hard,” said Ceballos, who was born and raised on Youngstown’s East Side. “I look at my town, and it makes me sad that things around here used to be so different.”

It’s struck even those who were comfortable — people such as Heidi Hultgren.

She used to count on her teaching salary at Kent State University and her husband’s salary as a research metallurgist at Republic Steel in Cleveland to support her three children and maintain a comfortable middle-class life.

The retired teacher now struggles to live on $1,400 a month from the State Teacher Retirement Fund. Her paycheck goes fast: $600 for a mortgage, $400 for a car payment and $250 for utilities. What’s left is split between insulin to manage her Type One Diabetes and for food.

Director of Kent Social Services Christy Anderson said Hultgren is one of the many people she knows who’s doing the best she can.

“I’ve been working at Social Services since 1979, and these past two years have been the worst I’ve ever seen as far as poverty goes,” Anderson said. “Heidi is one of many who have had employment, but as a turn of the economy lost their job and are struggling to live.”

As the recession has deepened in the past three years, the region’s resources have struggled to keep up with the growing need.

This year, every other family the Salvation Army has helped at the Booth Manor shelter in Akron has been new.

In 2008, the shelter experienced a 43-percent increase in clients served. Families who seek help there consist of single mothers and impoverished couples with young children.

U.S. Census data released in November reported that 620,000 Ohioans under 18 years old live in poverty. Child poverty, which has increased 50 percent since 2003, accounts for more than a third of all Ohioans living in poverty.

Logan, 4, and Joshua, 2, are among those children living in poverty.

Their mother, Amanda Huddleston, rides the public transit with her boys every morning. She leaves them at day care or preschool and continues on to the Medina County Job and Family Services building, where she takes a bus for Wadsworth to work in a factory. She brings home $434 a month and receives public assistance, which puts food on the table but affords little else.

“This isn’t somewhere I want to be for very long,” Huddleston says.

TheNewsOutlet.org is a collaboration among the Youngstown State University journalism program, Kent State University, University of Akron and professional media outlets including WYSU-FM Radio, The Vindicator, The Beacon Journal and Rubber City Radio (Akron).

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