Zanesville Times Recorder (Ohio), August 3, 2008: Study highlights self-sufficiency standard for Ohio

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Staff Writer

ZANESVILLE – Researchers with the University of Washington conducted a study and analysis of what it takes for an average family in Ohio to get by in these troubling economic times.

Compiled for the Ohio Association of Community Action Agencies, the study looked at families that are often not deemed “poor” by federal poverty measures, but they lack enough income to meet the rising costs of food, housing, transportation, health care and other essentials.

The study determined that although the Federal Poverty Level (FPL) is a good yardstick or starting point for determining self-sufficiency, and thus who is eligible for public or private assistance, the government as well as the general public think that level is too low.

“People are having such a hard time right now. I’m really concerned with the rising fuel costs, especially this winter with home heating,” said Nancy Pierce, director of the Muskingum Economic Opportunity Action Group (MEOAG), a local Community Action agency. “What this report is saying … People are having to do more with a lot less, stretching their dollars, shopping economically.”

For example, the self-sufficiency standard for Muskingum County for a family of four, with one preschooler and one school-age child is $37,925, which is 179 percent of the FPL. In Morgan County, the numbers are $35,417, which is 167 percent of the poverty level. In Perry County it is $40,613 which is 192 percent and in Coshocton County it is $37,621, which is 177 percent.

These numbers show the disparity between local communities.

“We’re not considered at the poverty level in this area, but it is a struggle,” Pierce said. “Even though we have higher levels, there are still a lot of working poor in our area. People are going without medications to put food on the table, not having proper nutrition because they are paying for gas.”

Some are even heading to local agencies like the Salvation Army or Christ’s Table for assistance, although they may have a job.

“We get a few who come in here for lunch on a regular basis. They may have a job, but they still need a little help,” said Lynn Workman, office manager at Christ’s Table.

The study also looks at how wages can effect the self-sufficiency standard, and other measures of “how much is enough in Ohio.”

According to Dr. Diana Pearce, who authored the report, the amount needed by a single parent with an infant and preschooler to be self-sufficient in Morgan and Noble counties is about $14.05 an hour, while the highest rate in the state is in Warren County near Cincinnati at $22.61 an hour.

A two-parent, two-child family in Morgan and Noble counties would have to earn a total of $16.76 an hour to be self-sufficient, Pearce said.

But only three of the top 10 occupational fields in Ohio, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, provide wages above the standard. And the most common occupational field – office and administrative support – has an average wage of $30,650.

For local counties, that would mean similar family types in Muskingum and Coshocton counties would just about break-even, while those in Morgan County would still need some sort of assistance and those in Perry County would have a buffer of about $2,000, likely ate up in savings and incidentals.

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