A new report from the nonprofit Council for a Strong America Ohio calls on state lawmakers to increase funding for child care and early education programs as a measure of alleviating poverty in rural Ohio.
“Although rates of childhood poverty in Ohio are slightly higher in urban areas at 20.9%, 10 of the 16 counties with child poverty rates above 20% and both counties with over 30% are in rural Ohio,” says Cyndy Rees, director of Council for a Strong America Ohio.
The report says over the past decade, 59 of Ohio’s 88 counties – though none in Central Ohio – have lost population. That loss is attributed to more people aging, fewer people giving birth, and people migrating out of rural areas to find work elsewhere.
Council For A Strong America Ohio recommends the state start addressing rural poverty by increasing the number of child care and pre-K education options.
“Children who live in rural areas tend to have less access to quality early care and education,” says chief researcher Sandy Bishop. “Sixty percent of rural Ohioans live in child care deserts.”
The report defines "child care deserts" as areas where there are more than three children under age 5 for each licensed child care slot.
George Goddard at the Corporation for Ohio Appalachian Development helped put together the report, and says that lack of child care options is hurting parents.
“A lot of parents in our area are really kind of struggling,” Goddard says. "We just finished a hiring process here, and every candidate in the hiring process wanted to know, ‘Is this job able to be done remotely?’ And the rationale several of them gave was because, ‘I don’t have childcare right now.’”
In addition to population decline and lack of childcare options, the report cites a lack of access to health care and the waning of agriculture and manufacturing jobs as contributors to poverty.