Springfield News-Sun (Ohio), July 27, 2008: Low-wage workers, retirees join the growing list of needy

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By Bridgette Outten, Matt Sanctis and Samantha Sommer

Staff Writers

Sunday, July 27, 2008

SPRINGFIELD, Ohio A husband loses his job, then his wife loses her job months later. They have a child in college and a mortgage to pay.

An 80-year-old woman has to apply for jobs because Social Security benefits no longer stretch; a family with a sick child suddenly needs more health insurance.

People in these situations have come to local aid agencies for help, highlighting an increasing trend: Although the poor have struggled in Clark and Champaign counties for generations, recent economic conditions are now hitting the working class and retirees hard as well.

“I think it’s so much harder today to stereotype the circumstances people are in than it was 10 or 15 years ago,” said Sam Moore, Clark County Department of Job and Family Services’ deputy director of the employment and benefits division.

The number of people in poverty in Clark County has increased at a slow, steady pace over the last years, DJFS director Bob Suver said.

But the number of people receiving cash assistance, food stamps and Medicaid has risen sharply over the last few years, Suver said.

Food stamps recipients alone in June 2008 increased nearly 9 percent from the same month in 2007, and more than 47 percent from June 1999.

“We have several different levels (of income) that we use for different programs,” he explained. “So when you ask how many people are in poverty, you can’t really look at the food stamp population and say that’s the same number of people.”

More seniors are coming out of retirement to get jobs because Social Security benefits don’t go far enough anymore, said Lehan Peters, WorkPlus Center director.

“Now you have everybody in the workplace competing for the same $12 an hour job,” Peters said.


The fact that more middle class and working class people need assistance is heaped on to the already-troubled arena of homelessness.

The ideal scenario for Charlie Bush, executive director of Interfaith Hospitality Network, would be for the homeless shelter to be put out of business.

“Obviously that doesn’t appear to be in the very near future,” Bush said.

As the economy has slowed, the number of people Interfaith has sheltered has grown.

In 2006, it served 193 people, including 91 adults and 102 children.

That climbed to 223 people in 2007, including 115 adults and 108 children.

Although some people served are in generational poverty, Bush believes the increase is due to a sluggish job market, especially for those without a lot of skills.

Many manufacturing jobs have dwindled away, he said, and been replaced with low-paying service positions that don’t offer health-care or other benefits.

About 20 percent of the adults sheltered are employed, Bush estimated.

Interfaith also helps its unemployed guests find jobs, he said, but that’s often not enough to make ends meet anymore.

“It doesn’t pay enough money for them to be self-sufficient,” Bush said.

“Once they get into an apartment, there’s still a need there … The overriding issue is there’s just not enough good jobs in this community.”

Interfaith’s guests receive job training, and lessons on money management and other skills.

Sometimes it can be hard to train someone, get them a job and housing, Bush said, and they realize they might make less money and receive fewer benefits then if they received welfare.

“In that situation, how do you instill the confidence that if you get a job and move forward, you will be successful?” he said. “That’s tough.”

Bush would like to see more focus put on bringing in jobs to the community that pay higher wages and bridging the training gap so unskilled workers can be employed.

“If there was an easy answer, somebody would have figured it out,” he said.

Similar situation in Champaign County

Job losses and a weak economy have led to increased need in Champaign County as well.

While demand for services has increased, Lisa McDonough, executive director for the Caring Kitchen, said she believes the situation is actually tougher than the numbers show. Many residents may be homeless, but for now are living with friends or relatives instead of seeking aid through local agencies, she said.

“There’s no way to tell, but there’s just gobs of people living together,” she said.

Others families who have been self-sufficient in previous years are seeking help for the first time, she said.

“Some of the people that have never had to ask for help are asking us for it,” she said.

For those without families, it is often even tougher because residents who are alone have more trouble finding assistance.

“The ones that are falling through the cracks are the ones who don’t have family,” she said.

According to information from the Champaign County Department of Job and Family Services, the number of residents seeking government assistance has been increasing annually as well.

The number of first-time visitors and job seekers at the Champaign Technology and Employment Center in May was about 90 in 2004, but had climbed to 140 in 2007, according to information from the DJFS. Through June, 174 new applicants visited the center.

More residents are also seeking assistance through the Ohio Works First program through the DJFS. The program, which is the Ohio portion of the federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, provides cash assistance for needy families for up to 36 months.

In May 2004, the Champaign County DJFS received 73 applications for the program. By 2007, that number had climbed to 115 applications. That number actually dropped slightly this year to 102 applications in May.

Susan Bailey, director of the DJFS, said the increase in demand for the programs is based on a number of factors. In part, she noted that those programs have been publicized better, letting more families know they are available. However, she said job losses also seem to be a major factor.

Bailey said agencies are seeing similar increases across the state, but added she does not believe they will see any relief any time soon.

“I do expect these to increase even more,” she said.

How to get help

Officials agree that one thing people who have lost their jobs or have found themselves in economic hardship can do is not wait until the last minute to ask for help.

“Too often, we see a pattern. Someone gets laid off, they wait, they don’t come to see us until all their benefits on the verge of being exhausted,” said Geoff Steele, DJFS assistant director. “Don’t wait. … Talk to us about training, talk to us about developing a plan that’s going to get you back in the work force.”

To help people find resources for emergency needs like food, shelter and clothing, the United Way of Clark, Champaign and Madison counties has established a information and referral hotline. Residents can dial 211 and be put through to the service.

“You can call us 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to find out what’s available,” said Doug Lineberger, executive director.

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