A report done by the Ohio Association of Community Action Agencies said that, while Ohio's population changed little over the past decade, poverty increased by nearly 59 percent statewide.
The association's State of Poverty 2012 report showed that 1.8 million residents -- one in six of all Ohioans --are living below the federal poverty line, enough to fill the Ohio State University football stadium more than 17 times.
Ohio's poverty rate increased by 57.7 percent between 1999 and 2011 while the state's population increased by only 1.7 percent.
Ohio's poverty rate of 16.4 percent exceeds the overall national rate of 15.9 percent.
In Portage County, the poverty rate grew from 14.3 percent in 2009 to 15.1 percent in 2010.
Over the five-year period of the report, 26.8 percent of Portage's children under the age of 5 lived in poverty. For seniors 65 years old and over, the rate was 4.4 percent.
The Portage County Department of Job and Family Services said that an average of 18,141 people per month received food stamps in 2012. The numbers decreased slightly over the year, from a high of 18,539 in March to 17,833 in December. Portage County residents received a total of $28.25 million in food assistance last year, according to the department.
Ann Marie Mann-Noble, director of food services for Family & Community Services, Inc., said the agency is still seeing an average of 45 to 50 new clients every month who have not accessed services before.
She said the numbers have stabilized the past six months.
"The first six months of last year we couldn't keep up with the demand -- it was a real struggle," she said.
Mann-Noble said she is concerned what will happen if General Electric closes its Ravenna plant. The plant employs 164 people.
"It's like the calm before the storm," she said.
At the Phyllis Zumkehr County Clothing Center in Ravenna "there are a lot of newer faces in the last couple of years," said Candy Pollard, center manager.
The center, located at 3377 S.R. 59, sees nearly 50,000 shoppers per year. Pollard said the numbers have remained steady the past few years. The center, which distributes free clothing but accepts donations from shoppers, is open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. weekdays and again from 6 to 8 p.m. on Tuesday and Thursday.
Pollard said the bulk of shoppers are from Ravenna followed by Kent and then other communities. The largest portion is families in the 25 to 50 years age group.
Last year, about 18,141 Portage Countians received Food Stamps each month, totaling $28.25 million. Also, an average of 1,113 people received cash assistance, which totaled $2.38 million over the year.
The report's highlights include:
n In the decade between 2000 and 2010, the number of people living below the poverty line in suburban counties increased by 69.9 percent -- a larger growth than in other counties.
The study, using demographic, census and other sources of information, said wages declined for middle income and lower workers while they went up for the top earners.
Wages for Ohio's richest 10 percent of residents increased by $3.99 an hour in the past 22 years. At the same time, wages for Ohio's poorest workers decreased by 71 cents per hour, and wages for middle-income workers decreased by $1.34 per hour.
n 60,791 Ohio veterans live in poverty and more than 10 percent of all homeless Ohioans are veterans.
n One in 12 Ohioans in poverty has a bachelor's degree or higher.
The full report is available on the agency's web site at www.oacaa.org.
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