Damien Hall, 35, stands on the front porch of his home with his wife, Franshel Hall, 25, and their son Damien Jr., 4, while watching Aaniya Hall (left), 8, and Daniel Hall, 3, ride Big Wheels on the sidewalk in front of their house in Piqua, Ohio. (Photo: By Ty Wright for USA TODAY)
TROY, Ohio — The rise in poverty here is evident in the mass of people who crowd the waiting room of the free health clinic every Thursday night — so many that the volunteer staff turns away about half of them.
It is marked by the bare shelves of the food pantry at Richards Chapel United Methodist Church, a one-story sanctuary where dozens of laid-off factory workers, retirees and young parents with children fill the dining hall daily for a free lunch.
And it is lived by Nancy Scott, a former stay-at-home mom working a temporary minimum-wage job, who says she had to choose between exhausting her paycheck on rent and utilities or living in her 1990 pickup.
She chose the truck.
This rural community, 22 miles north of Dayton, has seen an explosion of poverty in the past four years that is among the highest increases in the nation. Last year, 16,000 people lived in poverty in Miami County — one of every six residents, the Census says. Four years ago, just as the Great Recession was taking its grip on the nation, one in 16, or 6,000 people, suffered in poverty here.
The recession hit the Miami Valley hard, squeezing the lifeblood of the local economy: the auto industry and manufacturers that shed thousands of jobs. Families living on the margins of poverty found themselves catapulted into its misery.
This pain has festered even as the circumstances for many Americans have improved. Although the U.S. poverty rate hovers at a daunting 15%, economists agree a slow recovery is afoot. Housing prices are stabilizing, manufacturing is rebounding and last week’s consumer confidence index reached the highest level in five years.
But for people in Troy — and the tens of millions of Americans like them — the daily hardships of poverty aren’t captured in statistics or healed by political promises. As lawmakers in Washington grapple with the “fiscal cliff” and Americans do their holiday shopping, thousands of people in Miami County are managing on little or no income.