Poverty Increases in Cincinnati, Even as State, Nation See Decreases

New estimates from the Census Bureau show Cincinnati's poverty rate increased by more than 1.5 points last year, even as Ohio and the nation saw slight declines.

click to enlarge A camp where people experiencing homelessness were living in downtown Cincinnati - Nick Swartsell
Nick Swartsell
A camp where people experiencing homelessness were living in downtown Cincinnati

After a few years of declines in Cincinnati’s poverty rate, the number of people below the federal government’s poverty threshold is rising again, new U.S. Census Bureau estimates reveal. That increase comes despite national and statewide declines in poverty.

The new data comes from the 2017 American Community Survey — a single-year snapshot that relies on a sample of the population instead of a “count every person” approach used for the decennial Census.

In 2017, 27.7 percent of Cincinnatians were below the federal government’s poverty threshold — about $12,000 for a single person or a little less than $25,000 for a family of four. 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.

The new estimates put the poverty rate more than 1.5 points higher than last year, when the city’s poverty rate clocked in at 26 percent. Meanwhile, the national poverty rate edged down slightly, as did Ohio’s — from 14.6 percent to 14 percent.

Despite last year’s rise, poverty has still declined from the 31 percent rate reported in 2013. That year, 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. So far, that program has provided jobs to more than 500 Cincinnatians.

Though poverty has fallen here since 2013, it hasn’t fallen nearly as fast as it has statewide — where there has been a 12.5 percent drop in the past five years — or nationally, where poverty has decreased by 15 percent in that time. 

And longer-term, poverty has been rising in Cincinnati. The city's poverty rate is more than four points higher than it was a decade ago, just before the Great Recession. During that period, Cincinnati has had one of the fastest-growing poverty rates in the country; our rate rose even as poverty declined in places like Columbus, Ohio and Louisville, Ky., along with more than half of the country’s largest cities.

The new data has some eye-popping statistics on childhood poverty, but smaller sample sizes for this data make margins of error higher, and thus, the overall picture is less clear. The data shows an almost 6.5 percent increase in childhood poverty in Cincinnati proper — though the 46.4 percent figure cited in the data could be off by as much as five points.

Other indicators in the data show that some Cincinnatians are doing better than they were five years ago. The city’s median household income estimate rose from $34,000 in 2010 to $39,000 last year. Home values jumped almost $23,000 since 2013, with the median now at $143,000. The percentage of households making more than $200,000 a year edged up slightly to 3.8 percent. But as the data shows, that prosperity hasn't reached all residents.

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