Highland County has the ninth highest child poverty rate in Ohio, according to estimates based on the Census Bureau’s five-year American Community Survey, Cleveland.com said in an article last week.
The Census Bureau’s American Community Survey was taken from 2014 through 2018 andwas released in mid-December, the Cleveland.com article said.
The article said that 20.9 percent of Highland County residents live below the poverty line, which the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services identifies as a family or household income of $25,750. However, 29.5 percent of Highland County children live in poverty.
Highland County Community Action Organization, Inc. (HCCAO) Executive Director Julia Wise told The Times-Gazette that there are several factors that can contribute to the poverty rates in Highland County, including lack of transportation and child care.
Wise said there aren’t any certified day cares for Greenfield residents.
“There are jobs in Greenfield, but there’s an issue with childcare. Sometimes it’s very difficult if you don’t have childcare to get a job and maintain a job. Employers should have strict policies in regards to employment, but it often throws individuals out of their jobs,” Wise said. “We had someone who had two small children. She was employed in Greenfield. Every day, we had to have transportation pick her and her kids up at, say, 6:30 a.m. and bring them to a daycare center in Hillsboro, so she rode the half an hour to Hillsboro with her kids, dropped them off at childcare, hopped back on transportation, went back to Greenfield, and went to work. When she got off work, she took the transportation we provided, picked up her kids, and went back home. You’re talking two hours simply on the road to be able to get to childcare and get back from childcare each day. That’s not easy. We face these things all over the county.”
Another major factor, Wise said, in the poverty rates in Highland County is the difficulty of accessing public resources.
“A lot of the services that are offered in the county are only offered in Hillsboro,” Wise said. “For instance, if you need to go to Jobs and Family Services, sometimes it’s very difficult to get from Greenfield to Hillsboro, particularly if you don’t have transportation or you’re working and you don’t get off until, say, 4 p.m., and they’re closed by the time you get there.”
Wise has hopes that HCCAO and other organizations will be settled into their new building in Greenfield, which formerly housed Pamida and Shopko, by September of this year.
“We’re putting all of our services under one roof. We’ll be inviting other entities the opportunity to come over and offer services out of the building,” Wise said.
Wise encouraged members of the community who want to make a difference to volunteer, donate, and advocate for assistance programs and low-income residents.
“Every time you see someone who may not fit your mold, don’t stereotype them,” Wise said. “We’ve never walked in their shoes to know what’s going on.”
Wise said HCCAO is working with residents to combat generational poverty.
“If you’re someone who’s grown up in poverty, you’ve never known any different,” Wise said. “We’re trying to reach out to a much younger generation to show them what they could have — the better housing, the better transportation, whatever it is — if they got a job, if they could go to college or a technical school, if they could join the service.”
Cleveland.com stated in a separate article that, in Highland County, 84.2 percent of residents graduated from high school, 5.6 percent have a graduate or professional degree, and 12.6 percent have a bachelor’s degree. Cleveland.com ranked Highland County at 80th in the state, which is the lowest ranking out of the surrounding counties.
Wise said it’s important that businesses and organizations pay their employees a living wage.
“Even if a single mom is making $12 to $15 an hour, that’s still not a lot to live on,” Wise said.
According to the Ohio Association of Community Action Agencies’ Self-Sufficiency Calculator, a single parent living in Highland County with two school-age children would need to make $13.71 an hour in order to cover the costs of housing, health care, childcare, food, and transportation among other things. However, Wise says the calculator doesn’t factor in all living expenses.
“[For health care,] they’re not taking the prescription cost or the co-pay deductible,” Wise said. “When I look at these things in self-sufficiency calculators, I think they’re wonderful to give people an idea, but I also think they’re missing stuff. If you have a child in sports, you have to buy shoes and you have to get to all their games. If you have a child in band, you have to rent an instrument. I think those are issues whether we’re talking about poverty, being poor, or how difficult it is sometimes to live in our community.”
Cleveland.com also said that, in Highland County, the median family income is $55,701, which ranks the county 75th our of 88 counties in the state for highest median family income.
Wise encouraged members of the community who need assistance to seek it because there’s no shame in asking for help. For more information about Highland County Community Action’s programs, go to hccao.org or stop by its Hillsboro office, located at 1487 N High St., Suite 500, in the North High Business Center. HCCAO can always use volunteers and donations as well. Information about volunteering can be found at hccao.org/about/volunteer. Donations can be made at hccao.org/about/donate or by mailing a check.
Reach McKenzie Caldwell at 937-402-2570.