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Single mothers are at highest risk of poverty in Ohio

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The Ohio Development Services Agency released The Ohio Poverty Report in January recapping 2014, stating single mothers have a jobless rate at 80.5 percent, putting them at the greatest risk of poverty. There is a “profound impact for under- and unemployment of this segment of society,” according to the report.

In Ohio, the minimum wage is $8.10 and $4.05 for tipped workers. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2014 the number of women throughout the nation working two part-time jobs was 1,293,000, while the figure for men was 680,000.

“There are challenges for those unemployed whether you are a single mom, single dad or happily married. Children can create their own barriers when it comes to devoting yourself to a workplace,” Supervisor of The Work Station Scott Zielinski said in a phone interview.

Single mothers have the highest poverty rates in Ohio. The poverty rate for married couples with children is 7.3 percent, but for female single parents it is 55.3 percent, more than 7  times as much.

Even if the head of the house is working part time, for every single father living below the poverty line, there are two single mothers living in poverty.

The Athens County Department of Job and Family Services is working to provide support to those who are facing underemployment through a variety of work programs, such as The Work Station, which houses Athens County Job and Family Services’ employment programs and a variety of other services for area residents and local employers.

“Our typical client used to be a single mom with two kids. That used to be the typical profile of the typical client we served, and why that is the case, I think, across the country it’s always been the parents that struggle the most are single parents, and kids typically want to be with their mom,” said Arian Smedley, community relations coordinator for Athens County Job and Family Services.

With single parents struggling to juggle children and a work life, things can get a little overwhelming, which Zielinski says is what Jobs and Family Services is there for.

“We also have a number of different programs here that are meant to break down barriers for people that have something getting in the way of them finding employment. It’s not just the acting up with employers, kind of service, it’s also about trouble shooting those issues and barriers that are keeping people from being able to find and hold employment,” Zielinski said.

Another contribution to higher poverty levels in the county is transportation. A report, released by Athens County Job and Family Services in 2013, cited transportation as a huge problem for poorer families because it would prohibit them from being employed or retaining employment. In addition, families living below poverty levels qualify for certain benefits including food stamps, cash assistance, affordable housing, etc.

However, in order to receive this assistance, the recipient must be able to travel between the different agencies spread out across the county, and public transportation is scarce in Athens. This is where the Ohio Benefit Bank steps in, said Beth Strassman, an integrated services counselor for the Ohio Benefit Bank.

“You can spend 20 bucks in cash, especially in Athens County, to go from one agency to another and spend all day doing it—if you’re needing those services,” Strassman said. “So, to keep that from happening as often, the state of Ohio trains several people to be what they call Benefit Bank counselors.”

“It brings the services to them,” Strassman said. “You can see how that would help a single mom with three kids who doesn’t have transportation; she doesn’t have the resources to get out.”

Strassman has been working with the Benefit Bank for almost 20 years.

While these organizations are doing their best to help single mothers, it is clear that poverty is high across all demographics for southeast Ohio.

“This work is fulfilling because the world is not always fair to low-income or disadvantaged people—sometimes somebody just needs a little help or a little guidance to take those last steps towards self-sufficiency,” Strassman said.

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