November 24, 2014

Mostly clear

Region’s working poor struggle to break cycle of poverty

Very few people likely aspire to live a life of poverty whether they live in Wilkes Villa, Eastern Heights or in any other part of Elyria or Lorain County.

However, once stuck in the cycle, people learn through trial and error it takes more money than originally thought to move from poverty to something better, especially in an economy that is unforgiving to the poor.

“Minimum wage, or anything close to it, is not enough to get by on,” said Fight for a Fair Economy Ohio director Nick Gurich, who works with an offshoot of the SEIU District 1199. “Some people want to paint these people as being unemployed or lazy, but generally that’s not the case. They are working — sometimes harder than the rest of us. They are just underemployed.”

According to the Economic Policy Institute, what is needed to run a household is much more than not only what the poor are bringing home but also more than the median household income for Lorain County — $48,280 at last count according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

In a recently released report, the EPI calculated the annual basic budget for a two-parent, two-child family in the Cleveland-Elyria-Mentor metropolitan statistical area is an estimated $62,050. That is the bar to reach for a full-time, full-year minimum-wage worker earning only $16,328 a year — a whopping 70 percent less than what is required for a modest living standard.

Closing that gap is the struggle the poor face every day. Often, that means turning to so-called entitlement programs to help with food, money, medical care and child care.

“They don’t solve all of the problems, but they provide a safety net for kids across the state and very low-income parents,” said Ben Johnson, spokesman for the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services. “There are a lot of misconceptions about who receives such help, but four out of 10 people who receive food assistance are children, seven out of 10 people who receive cash assistance are children, and all of the people who receive child care assistance are children.”

There are about 1.8 million Ohioans receiving food assistance, and none makes more than 130 percent of the federal poverty guideline, which is $23,550 for a family of four. It is one of few entitlement programs available to able-bodied persons with children, but assistance is limited to roughly $130 on average per person per month.

Many people have likely heard of politicians going on a weeklong food stamp challenge and attempting to eat on less than $35 a week. The point of the challenge is to raise awareness of the difficulty in living —and living well — within the SNAP allowance.

There are even fewer people receiving cash assistance. And, those all have to be adults with dependent children making no more than 50 percent of the federal poverty guideline.

“The number is much smaller in Ohio than people realize. In May 2012, there were just 133,000 individuals enrolled in the program, and 70 percent were children,” Johnson said. “The income guidelines are much more stringent, so these are families that essentially have no income and the numbers are not as high because it’s time-limited.”

Families can only receive cash assistance, also known as welfare, for three years. Hardship cases can get an extension to extend the time to five years, but very few qualify and the time limit is a lifetime limit, with no exceptions.

Beyond time limits, welfare also requires work. Every adult in the program must perform 30 hours of some kind of work — volunteer or otherwise — a week. Those who don’t are suspended from the program.

Welfare recipients receive on average $400 a month per household.

“That’s why SNAP, Medicaid and child care assistance are important companion programs,” Johnson said. “The cash assistance available to families is very limited. It goes back to Welfare to Work reform that started in the 1990s.”
Putting more money into the hands of some of the hardest-working Americans will not be an easy task. But some politicians are intent on doing just that despite the groundswell against them.

“On June 25, 1938, President Franklin Roosevelt signed into law a minimum wage standard that would help build America’s middle class. Seventy-five years later, Ohioans who work hard should be able to take care of their families by earning a living wage,” said Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, in a statement released on the 75th anniversary of minimum wage. “But too many Ohioans are working harder than ever — and barely getting by.”

Brown would like to see the federal minimum wage increased to $10.10 an hour from its current $7.25 in three increments of 95 cents, then provide for an automatic annual increases linked to changes in the cost of living.

A bill, which Brown has cosponsored, would also gradually raise the minimum wage for tipped workers — currently $2.13 an hour — for the first time in more than 20 years to 70 percent of the regular minimum wage.

“Ensuring a fair wage is good for middle-class families and good for our economy,” he said.

Contact Lisa Roberson at 329-7121 or

  • oldruss

    All well and good. There are poor people in our county who receive welfare benefits, SNAP (Food Stamps), subsidized housing (Section 8), Medicaid, Child Care, free school breakfasts and lunches, etc., but still struggle.

    Then, please, explain to me why no minority in Lorain, a city of which 42 percent of the population is minority, even bothered to apply for a recently advertised, entry-level, no experience required, cleaner position with the City of Lorain?


  • CharlesMartel732

    Amazing. Herrod Brown has done absolutely NOTHING for Ohio and keeps getting re-elected. When he was a congressman it was the same story. He has one mantra about poverty ‘raise the minimum wage.’

    Go ahead, raise the minimum wage. Business will pass the increase off on customers and lay-off employees.

    Democrats, unions and the entitlement mentality, destroying America everywhere they go. And the people of this region keep voting for it.

    • agent5959

      The only problem with this “businesses laying off workers and raising prices” theory is that it has been fully disproven dozens of times over the past several decades. It’s simply not true.

      Minimum wage and unemployment:

      Minimum wage and inflation:

      One also needs to consider this. If minimum wage kept up with:

      inflation since 1968, it would now be $10.56
      average wages since 1968, it would now be $10.05
      productivity since 1968, it would now be $21.72
      executive pay since 1990, it would now be $23.00
      the price of homes since 1970, it would now be $11.20
      the cost of a college degree since 1980, it would now be $19.57

      The fact is that the people at the bottom have less purchasing power than any other point in our lifetimes and people want to blame them for not being able to climb out of a hole that just keeps getting deeper.

      • Pablo Jones

        Unfortunately that isn’t true, people move in and out of income levels frequently. There will always be poor people and people down on their luck. But in America it is common for people that have the correct attitude and behavior to move out of their economic groups.

        Studies that track the same households have found that families do move between the brackets. In one study they found that after 6 years 44% of those in the lowest bracket have moved up, some even to the highest bracket.

        It is minimum wage for a reason, because those jobs only require a minimum amount of skill to do the work. They are not meant to be the jobs that support families and travel the world.

        • Alan Pugh

          We’re not talking about traveling the world. We’re talking about the wage keeping up with inflation so it provides the same historic sustainability that one should expect from an unskilled job. Nobody should be working 40 hours a week and unable to sustain themselves.

          • Pablo Jones

            They are able to sustain themselves. They can not sustain multiple kids on minimum wage. It doesn’t take much to make more than minimum wage. If they took advantage of public schooling through high school they shouldn’t have a problem making more than minimum wage.

          • bpbatista

            “We’re talking about the wage keeping up with inflation so it provides
            the same historic sustainability that one should expect from an
            unskilled job.”

            Then the minimum wage should be $4.07 today based on inflation indexing since it was created in 1938.

          • Alan Pugh

            The minimum wage was an experimental reform when introduced, and through the next several years, it was “right-sized” to provide a basic standard of living.

            This is a silly argument. You truly believe someone can afford shelter, food, medical care, transportation, and get an education to better themselves on four dollars an hour?

          • bpbatista

            You’re the one who brought up the indexed for inflation ruse. I’m just pointing out that the 1968 date is cherry picked and bogus.

      • CharlesMartel732

        Of course I disagree. I won’t cherry pick any conservative articles to counter your progressive articles. I agree with Mr. Jones, minimum wage was intended for young people entering the work world to gain employment skills and experience, not for people to stay at their entire lives.

        I myself had no advantages and graduated from public school. I started out making minimum wage, in fact I worked two minimum wage jobs at a time, which is not uncommon. I worked these jobs like millions of other people did until I moved on to something better.

        This political football is great for politicians like Herrod Brown who see the opportunity to play to his voter base with promises of increasing their poverty. Funny how the minimum wage continues to go up along with the poverty level in cities like Lorain, Elyria, Cleveland, Youngstown and every other democrat entitlement city in the nation.

        • Alan Pugh

          You worked your minimum wage jobs when the minimum wage was worth far more than it is today. That’s the entire point I’m trying to make. Your minimum wage was more, adjusted for inflation, than today’s minimum wage.

          You say the minimum wage “keeps going up” but it hasn’t gone up in four years. Meanwhile, the cost of living continues to rise.

          • stillsleepyeyes

            And the cost of living keeps going up………………because big brothers give themselves ……….raises….top of the line insurance…….pet projects………….and the list goes on…..spend and spend………that’s the cost of living raise……….and all for doing nothing to help the poor or hungry people in there own home town…no jobs….or low paying jobs……………….

          • CharlesMartel732

            The premise of this article is flawed as well. Saying Joe makes 60K a year and Jim only makes 15K does not mean that Jim is entitled to free money to make up the difference.

          • CharlesMartel732

            What? I’d say that’s a grand bit of speculation on your part?

            The minimum wage was raised in 2009, that’s less than 5 years ago.

            I have not had a raise where I work in over 6 years. And it does not look I will be getting a raise any time soon.

            Would you address the point that the minimum wage is not intended for people to live their entire lives at? It’s a starting point for people to break into the working world.

          • Alan Pugh

            If people want to live their entire lives at the bare minimum, with basic housing and basic healthcare and enough money to afford utilities and transportation and food, that’s none of my concern. I don’t buy into this theory that anyone should be forced to “climb the ladder.”

            My point circles around whether the minimum wage can cover the basic, bare necessities, which would allow those folks to break even and, if they so choose, work toward a life of more substantial means. If your wages leave you impoverished despite your frugality, you’ll never be able to break into the world.

          • bpbatista

            “I don’t buy into this theory that anyone should be forced to “climb the ladder.”"

            Wow, is that revealing. So if someone doesn’t want to work to improve themselves and their lot in life then the rest of us should cough up our own hard earned money so that person can pay still pay his bills.

          • CharlesMartel732

            I guess I’m a little slow. I just clicked on that little icon he’s got next to his name and found he supports the socialist party. Little does he understand that the socialists will have us all living in poverty when they get their way.

          • CharlesMartel732

            Once again I disagree. No matter what ones level of income, one must live within ones means. I am by no means wealthy, I have to live within my means. If I’m not satisfied with my wage I have the opportunity to improve myself, making myself more marketable and moving up.

            It’s up to the individual.

            I was able to live within my means while I spent several years making minimum wage. I did not take one red cent from the government while being married and having a child. It can be done.

            People who are satisfied living at the bare minimum, on minimum wage their entire lives, should not be sticking their hands out for wealth redistribution.

      • bpbatista

        Nice cherry picked data on the minimum wage. If the minimum wage had been indexed for inflation from its inception in 1938, it would now be $4.07.

        Unless you repeal the laws of economics, a higher minimum wage will result in fewer jobs (charge a higher price for something (labor) and there will be less demand for it (jobs)). It is no coincidence that the minimum wage has increased significantly in the last 5 years while persistent unemployment has exploded. This is particularly true of black unemployment which was at an all time low in the early 2000′s before the minimum wage was hiked nearly 75% beginning in 2005 and which now is at near all time highs.

        • Alan Pugh

          “Unless you repeal the laws of economics, a higher minimum wage will result in fewer jobs (charge a higher price for something (labor) and there will be less demand for it (jobs)).”

          Except both of those myths have been disproven repeatedly by economists and statisticians every time the minimum wage has been raised, as I’ve demonstrated on this topic various times.

          Minimum wage and unemployment:

          Minimum wage and inflation:

          “It is no coincidence that the minimum wage has increased significantly in the last 5 years”

          Minimum wage in 2009 – 7.25
          Minimum wage in 2010 – 7.25
          Minimum wage in 2011 – 7.25
          Minimum wage in 2012 – 7.25
          Minimum wage in 2013 – 7.25

          The minimum wage has increased significantly in the last five years? How is 7.25 “significanly higher” than 7.25?

          “in the last 5 years while persistent unemployment has exploded.”

          Textbook unemployment has fallen over two percent in the last five years (10.0% to 7.4% – and real unemployment has dropped by similar percentages (~16.8% to ~14.3% –

          • bpbatista

            Of course, there are plenty of economic studies, plus real world experience showing that increasing the minimum wage costs jobs:


            In addition, the studies that you cite relate to only small increases in the minimum wage and do not test the 40% increase that Sherrod Brown wants. Obviously, smaller increases will have smaller effects.

            As the Wall Street Journal reported in 2009:

            “Earlier this year, economist David Neumark of the University of California, Irvine, wrote on these pages that the 70-cent-an-hour increase in the minimum wage would cost some 300,000 jobs. Sure enough,
            the mandated increase to $7.25 took effect in July, and right on cue the August and September jobless numbers confirm the rapid disappearance of jobs for teenagers.

            The September teen unemployment rate hit 25.9%, the highest rate since World War II and up from 23.8% in July. Some 330,000 teen jobs have vanished in two months. Hardest hit of all: black male teens, whose unemployment rate shot up to a catastrophic 50.4%. It was merely a terrible 39.2% in July.”

            The minimum wage was $5.15 in 2006 and then raised in stages to $7.25 in 2009 — a 40% increase.

            The reason the reported unemployment rate has fallen is because the number of people looking for work has fallen. If the same number of people who were working in 2008 were looking for work today the reported number would be closer to 11%. In fact, according the US Bureau of Labor Statistics there are 2,000,000 fewer people working today than there were in 2008.

  • Pablo Jones

    Ok a family of 4, 2 parents and 2 kids. If the parents both make minimum wage that is about $30,000 a year. If they have medicaid that would be the equivalent of an $800 a month health insurance plan. If they have food stamps that would be about $400 a month. That is the equivalent of over $44,000 a year.

    Add in government housing and they are over $50,000. I don’t see why they need increased assistance.

    Maybe they have problems because they squandered their free public education, had kids before they could afford them with guys that really don’t want to be with them. they smoke (not cheap), they have cable and flat screen tvs, etc.

    • agent5959

      Or maybe families making $30,000 a year don’t qualify for SNAP or public housing. Because they don’t.

      • Pablo Jones

        Sorry, a family of four making $29,978 qualifies for $668 a month. I guess they will just have to call in sick a couple days so they still qualify for SNAP.

        • JustMe

          I am a family of four making about $12000 a year and we only qualify for $482 a month. The more I make, the less we qualify for, not more. Sorry, but that’s not how SNAP works. You might be looking at the maximum amount allowed for a family of four and thinking that’s what everyone gets. It isn’t.

  • Chris

    Wow! Three articles regarding Wilkes Villa!!! I wasn’t aware that Wilkes Villa represented Elyria. Three articles….really?!? Times must be really slow for the reporters at The Chronicle Telegram.

  • bpbatista

    You’re not supposed to “live well” on welfare. If you could, what would be the incentive for any one to ever work?

    “Minimum wage, or anything close to it, is not enough to get by on,” said Fight
    for a Fair Economy Ohio director Nick Gurich, who works with an offshoot
    of the SEIU District 1199. “Some people want to paint these people as
    being unemployed or lazy, but generally that’s not the case. They are
    working — sometimes harder than the rest of us. They are just
    underemployed.” — then why does the SEIU continue to bankroll politicians whose policies destroy jobs and kill economic growth? Median household income has declined nearly 5% since the SEIU endorsed Barack Obama was elected.

  • bpbatista

    Apparently Sherrod Brown thinks that he can repeal the law of supply of demand. Why doesn’t Brown want to raise the minimum wage to $20, $30 or $100 per hour? Doesn’t Brown want what is good for middle-class families and our economy?