LIMA — Dawn Tucker knows what it’s like to live paycheck to paycheck.
She makes $9 an hour, working a retail job in the area. She owns her home on Lima’s Ewing Avenue. She tries to help her son, a single father, raise her grandson. Then someone bumped her car in a local parking lot recently, and she worried about finding her deductible to repair her vehicle.
“I live paycheck to paycheck. Where am I going to get a $500 deductible?” she said during a community event Thursday at the American Red Cross building in Lima. “I am not the only one in that boat.”
Overall, two out of five Allen County households don’t earn enough money to meet their basic needs, according to a report released by the United Way. Tucker is among the 26 percent of people in Allen County who are ALICE, or Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed. The study looks at a family’s ability to survive, factoring in local costs for housing, child care, food, transportation and health care, yet they’re still above the federal poverty guidelines.
For a single person, those expenses equal out to $17,964 a year, averaging $8.72 an hour. For two adults, an infant and a preschooler, you need $61,080, or $28.06 an hour, to make ends meet. An abundance of part-time jobs and shortage of full-time opportunities is a real challenge, Tucker said.
“Right now, there seems to be an overall attitude that the poor are lazy,” Tucker said. “‘Kick them off social services.’ ‘Tell them to go out and get jobs.’ The attitude is they’re not working.
“No, our poor are working. We have families with small children that the mother and father are both working two or three jobs, putting in 40, 50, 60 hours apiece, trying to make ends meet.”
Allen County’s rates match the state’s rates, according to the study, conducted by researchers from Rutgers University, who conducted their first ALICE study in 2009 in Morris County, New Jersey, and now have mimicked the work in 15 states. The highest rate in Allen County, 63 percent, was inside the city of Lima, followed by Perry Township (47 percent) and Auglaize and Spencer townships (46 percent).
“We’ll never get rid of ALICE families, but we can do is level the playing field for ALICE and provide things to give ALICE families an opportunity to lift themselves up to that stability budget,” said Carol Braden-Clarke, president of the United Way of Greater Lima, as she presented the local findings.
Neighboring Putnam County fared much better, with 22 percent falling short of ALICE and 6 percent below the federal poverty line. In Auglaize County, 21 percent were within the ALICE range and 9 percent were below the federal poverty line. These two counties, along with Mercer County, were among five in the state that scored high in affordable housing, job opportunities and affordable housing.
Low-wage jobs with erratic schedules are a real challenge for ALICE families, Braden-Clarke said. Economic conditions worsened for these households following the Great Recession, according to the research.
In Allen County, 39 percent of senior households are below the ALICE threshold. More than two-thirds of the county’s black residents fall into the category, at 72 percent, while 52 percent of Hispanic residents, 37 percent of white and 24 percent of Asian households fall in the ALICE range.
Education plays a key role too, with people holding just a high school diploma faring worse than their better-educated counterparts. The study also found women made 78 cents on the dollar compared to men in 2015 in Ohio, with men earning more regardless of the education level but especially with just a high school diploma, where they earn 64 percent more than women.
The bulk of the jobs in Ohio, at more than 170,000, are combined food preparation jobs, earning a median wage of $8.94 an hour. Retail is second, with 162,130 jobs and a median of $9.92, followed by cashiers ($9.13 an hour), restaurant wait staff ($8.97) and home health aides ($9.83).
The study reinforced the importance of some tax benefits, such as the earned income tax credit. Lima Mayor David Berger urged service providers and residents to make sure Congress knows their thoughts about the tax credit, especially as they work on rewriting the tax code.
“The really ought to inform our perspective with where they go with that,” Berger said. “We should not be oblivious to the consequences of what may happen in that tax rewrite. We need to be engaged and inform our legislators about this perspective and the needs for every community.”
Tucker said she took advantage of the earned income tax credit to get the down payment on her current home.
She hoped the study would help people understand the real challenges of the area’s working poor.
“It’s almost like you documented my life and the life of a lot of people I know,” she said.