United Way of Ashtabula County has a goal of raising more than $900,000 in its current campaign. Jones pays attention to the county’s low per capita income figure because he knows they explain why it is so difficult to raise United Way pledges. Low wages mean less discretionary income, which includes money people can give to charity.
The local organization’s high point was 2000, when it raised $1.05 million. Jones says at that time, there was actually a labor shortage in the county. Since then, the region has slid into a long recession, which has made raising funds much more challenging. At the same time, demand is rising for services at agencies that receive United Way support.
“We certainly are seeing information from organizations we serve — seeing increased demand: more visits to food banks, people needing help because of higher medical costs they can’t cover. Basically, it’s problems related to low income that are rising.”
One of the major factors that has helped make Ashtabula County a poor region has more to do with social shifts than economics. Twenty-four percent of the Ashtabula County households that fall under the poverty level are headed by a female with no husband present. Adult females on Medicaid outpace males by a rate of 1.6 (1.6 females for every male).
Renea Roach, who runs the emergency food program at the Conneaut Human Resources Center, says many people don’t realize the dilemma single mothers face when considering the part-time, minimum-wage, no-insurance jobs prevalent in the local economy.
“If they take a minimum wage job for 20 hours a week, they lose more than they are getting (through entitlement programs),” she says. “The end up working to pay a babysitter. That’s all they work for. A lot of them are in a catch 22. It’s not that they don’t want to go out and work, it’s just that they don’t want to give up what they got.”