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Report Calls for Immediate Action to Fight Child Poverty in Stark County

photo of school classroom
Karen Kasler
Statehouse News Bureau
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the city of Canton in Stark County comes in second for the worst rate of child poverty in the United States, according to a report that addresses the issue.

In parts of Stark County child poverty has become an epidemic. In 2019 Canton had the second worst child poverty rate in the country at nearly 57%.

Stark Community Foundation, the United Way of Greater Stark County and the Center for Community Solutions have released a report highlighting the problem and outlining a framework for change.

Emily Campbell from the Center for Community Solutions said child poverty, especially in Canton, has reached crisis levels.

“Canton had the second worst child poverty rate of any city in the country with a population over 65,000 in 2019, so pre-pandemic, we don't really know what's happening today. In 2020 we expect that that will be somewhat worse. Canton was tied with Youngstown so Ohio in general has not fared well when we look at the issue of child poverty.”

The federal poverty threshold for a family of four is $26,200 per year, but according to United Way, that same family would have to make $66,876 to get by.

“There's general consensus that the official poverty thresholds are set so low that it doesn't accurately reflect what a family would need to make ends meet and get by without outside assistance from government programs or from family and friends or charitable giving."

Campbell said it illustrates the unlevel playing field for many families in Stark County.

“There are a lot more people in the community that are struggling, so that are right on the edge. This is something that we've seen during the coronavirus pandemic. The long lines for food assistance. People who've never had to ask for help before seeking it, and it just shows us how close to the edge so many people are in our community.”

How did we get to this point in Stark County?

“As the populations of our central cities have declined, the poverty has become concentrated. So, there are about the same number of children living in poverty in Canton as there have been in the past, the problem is that they account for a much larger share. And so, the result is that neighborhoods become hollowed out, so people aren't earning enough money. There are lower tax collections, which then can't be invested back into amenities within the community, and you really get this vicious cycle.”

How do we help bring children and families out of poverty?

“There are number of different strategies or approaches that can be taken to improve child poverty. One is to work directly with kids to help them overcome their disadvantages. These are things like early care and education, helping kids be prepared when they enter kindergarten. And those can be highly, highly effective. The problem is that we have to wait for the next generation in order to see the impact of those activities. So, a way help improve poverty in communities right now is to help people earn more. Increase those family incomes and those household incomes and we can very quickly get people out of poverty.”

What role does public funding play?

“The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, SNAP or food stamps, feeds many more families than a food bank could ever help to feed. There are many important government programs that are helping families make ends meet every single day in our community. So, figuring out ways to leverage those dollars can be really an effective way to address poverty,” Campbell said.

But federal funding isn’t very flexible.

“The great thing about this effort is that there are other philanthropic and charitable funders at the table willing to put their money behind some of these issues.”

What would you say to a family who is struggling right now?

“There is a myth that people are poor because they are lazy. But what the data shows (is) just the opposite. We find that no one chooses to be poor. And so, we found that there are nearly 4,000 people who worked full time for the full year and still didn't earn enough to be above that poverty threshold. And in fact, about 45% of adults in Stark County living in poverty worked at least some of the time for some of the year. So, really, people are working. They are working hard, but they are not earning enough to be above those poverty thresholds.”

Mark Arehart joined the award-winning WKSU news team as its arts/culture reporter in 2017. Before coming to Northeast Ohio, Arehart hosted Morning Edition and covered the arts scene for Delaware Public Media. He previously worked for KNKX in Seattle, Kansas Public Radio, and KYUK in Bethel, Alaska.