Dayton’s poverty rate is among worst in U.S.

Credit: Jim Noelker

Credit: Jim Noelker

Poverty may have declined slightly in Dayton last year, but the Gem City still has one of the highest poverty rates in the nation among mid- to large-sized urban areas, a Dayton Daily News analysis shows.

“People who are born into poverty have a harder time coming out of it, but those aren’t the only folks struggling,” said Keelie Gustin, chief policy officer at Miami Valley Community Action Partnership. “We have seen folks that had to deplete their savings to make rental or mortgage payments, or had to deplete their savings to pay for rising costs of groceries, gas and all of these things.”

“The safety net they had is gone,” she said.

Last year, about 27.6% of Dayton residents lived in poverty, according to new data from the 2021 American Community Survey analyzed by the Dayton Daily News.

This was a slight decline from 2019, when about 29.6% of residents lived below the poverty line.

A family of four is in poverty if it earns less than about $27,250 per year.

Across the nation, only seven other medium- to large-sized cities (defined as having at least 100,000 residents) had a greater share of their residents living in poverty, compared to Dayton.

The nation’s poverty leaders were Jackson, Mississippi (32.2% poverty rate); Detroit (30.2%); Cleveland (29.3%); Syracuse, New York (28.7%); Birmingham, Alabama (28.3%); Springfield, Massachusetts (27.9%); and Rochester, New York (27.8%).

In 2019, only three cities with at least 100,000 residents had a higher poverty rate than Dayton. Dayton has about 138,300 residents.

Other Ohio cities with fairly high poverty rates included Cincinnati (27.3%); Canton (25.5%) and Toledo (23.8%).

Basic needs not met with pay

Too many local jobs do not pay enough to cover basic needs, like housing and childcare, said Gustin, with Miami Valley CAP, and many people have employment barriers like suspended driver’s licenses or no automobile insurance.

Unemployed Dayton residents are more than four times as likely to live in poverty than community members with jobs.

Poverty rates also are much lower for Daytonians who attended or graduated college or who have other higher-education credentials.

The labor market changed during the pandemic and there is a mismatch between many residents’ qualifications and educational credentials and the skills needed to fill some high-growth jobs, Gustin said.

Residents need more workforce training options and better access to higher education, she said.

Also, she said, a lack of affordable housing and childcare are enormous problems locally that were exacerbated by COVID.

It’s very hard for people to improve their lives and climb out of poverty when their basic needs are not being met, advocacy groups say.

Miami Valley CAP last year provided more than 20,000 people across four local counties with housing, energy, weatherization and other kinds of assistance.

Last year, nearly one-third of Black and Latino Dayton residents lived below the poverty line, compared to less than one-quarter of their white counterparts.

Children in Dayton are far more likely to live in poverty than other age groups.

About 44% of kids under the age of 18 are impoverished, while less than a quarter of people 18 to 64 are in the same situation. Nearly 18% of seniors 65 and older are stuck in poverty.

Poverty is unequivocally linked to poorer outcomes for children, especially when poverty persists throughout childhood, said Kim Eckhart, interim director and research manager of the Children’s Defense Fund-Ohio.

Poverty contributes to problems like a lack of nutritious food, clothing, safe and stable housing, health care and education, she said.

Poverty can hurt children’s health, academic achievement, social-emotional functioning and long-term well-being and economic success, she said.

“We all benefit from ending child poverty,” Eckhart said. “Reducing child poverty and promoting economic security and mobility not only improves well-being for children and their families, but also has long-term net benefits for society, such as higher taxes paid, lower health care costs, and less crime.”

The good news is that childhood poverty has been declining in the last decade, both across Ohio and Montgomery County.

However, Eckhart said many experts believe that people and families who live slightly above what is considered the poverty threshold still have inadequate resources to meet their needs.

Policy and funding priorities should seek to create a stronger, more robust safety net that helps ensure families have opportunities to thrive and become economically secure, she said.

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