Census Data: Cincinnati Poverty Falls Slightly, Still Fifth-Highest in Nation

One in four Cincinnatians live in poverty — an improvement from recent years, but still above the city's rate before the recession.

Cincinnati - Nick Swartsell
Nick Swartsell

More than one in four Cincinnatians lives in poverty, U.S. Census estimates released today reveal — giving the city the fifth-highest poverty rate in the country among cities with more than 250,000 people.

Cincinnati's 25.2-percent poverty rate represents the lowest poverty level here since the onset of the Great Recession, but not a full recovery. In 2007, the year before the recession, the city's poverty level was 23.5 percent. It has been as high as 31.3 percent in 2013.

The federal government’s poverty threshold is about $12,000 for a single person or a little less than $25,000 for a family of four. In Cincinnati, that includes almost 40 percent of the city’s black residents and about 16 percent of the city’s white residents.

The federal government’s poverty threshold is a bare-bones level of existence, most social service experts say, and many other Cincinnatians are at or below 200 percent of the poverty line — the level that starts to be sustainable for individuals and families. In 2016, more than 143,000 of Cincinnati’s residents lived at or under that threshold.

When the city's poverty level was at its peak, Mayor John Cranley campaigned partially on lowering the city’s sky-high poverty rate. He created the city’s Childhood Poverty Collaborative in 2015 as well as the Hand Up program, which provides $10-an-hour jobs to low-income residents. As of last year, that program has provided jobs to more than 500 Cincinnatians.

Statewide, poverty has gone from 16 percent to 14 percent, and nationally, it has decreased from 16 percent to 14 percent.

The city isn't the poorest in Ohio, which has an overall poverty rate roughly one point higher than the national rate at 14 percent. Cleveland's poverty rate is 33.1 percent, the second-highest in the nation behind Detroit. Columbus, Ohio's capital city, has a poverty rate of roughly 20 percent. Toledo came in just behind Cincinnati with the sixth-highest poverty rate in the nation at an even 25 percent.

Like the nation as a whole, Cincinnati's unemployment rate has dropped to just over 4 percent — lower than Ohio's 4.6 percent. But wages have remained stagnant and most areas where jobs are growing — the service industry, mainly — do not offer jobs paying the same wages as industrial jobs the city and region have lost over time.

Last year, a study from left-leaning think tank Policy Matters Ohio found that six out of the region's 10 most common jobs don't pay a living wage. In the metro area, the most common job last year was in the food preparation field, where the median annual salary is about $19,000 a year. About 32,000 people in the metro area do this kind of work. Other common jobs not paying living wages included retail sales (another 30,000 local employees), wait staff (20,000 regional employees), stock clerks (more than 17,000 employees in the region) and janitors and maintenance personnel (more than 15,000 workers in the metro area).

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