Food deserts are a big problem for many of Hamilton County’s impoverished families, but ongoing research suggests officials may be overlooking mobility when attempting to pinpoint neighborhoods that lack access to healthy foods.
University of Cincinnati professor Michael Widener is heading research that looks into how mobility can alter perceptions about food deserts. So far, his findings have suggested that some people may have access to healthy foods throughout their daily commute despite being classified as living in a food desert.
Widener explains the research is necessary to make identifying food deserts more accurate. “In previous work and when I was doing my dissertation, I was noticing how a lot of food desert research failed to take into account the dynamics of everyday urban life,” he says. The observation led Widener to incorporate those dynamics, particularly people’s movements throughout the day, to see how they impact people’s access to food.
Still, Widener cautions that his findings don’t dismiss the problems caused by food deserts: “Of course, there are a lot of assumptions being made, like are (these commuters) totally drained after work? The biggest (assumption) is of course that (someone has) a car.”
Widener says his findings could impact how public officials approach food desert policies. He points to potential stopgap measures, such as better access to public transportation, that could alleviate the pains of living in a food desert while a more permanent solution is put in place. Widener argues these policies could make financial sense: Considering how many potential costs a food desert can bring on a community, it might be cheaper for a city to build a bus route and encourage better ways to load groceries into buses. Widener knows these aren’t perfect solutions, but he thinks they could provide some aid in a bogged-down political climate that often results in sluggish policy changes.
There is a caveat: Widener acknowledges research has so far been inconsistent as to whether access to healthier food actually leads to healthier results. Eventually, he wants to research what actually causes healthier results and whether broader economic factors, such as poverty, play a more important role. That could give officials a clearer picture on which policies work and which don’t.
The first part of Widener’s research came out in a January paper that looked at auto commuters’ access to food, and the next part will look at public transportation’s impact. The research project is using local transportation data from The Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana Regional Council of Governments.
Food deserts are neighborhoods that lack access to fresh, healthy foods. In Hamilton County, many of the identified food deserts are in neighborhoods on the city’s west side, including Price Hill and Queensgate. Cincinnati’s food deserts are just one problem being addressed by Plan Cincinnati, the city’s first master plan in more than 20 years (“Core Future,” issue of Sept. 5).
Part of the parking plan proposed by City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. on Feb. 19 (“City Manager Proposes Parking, Economic Development Plan,” issue of Feb. 20) would also build a modern grocery store with access to fresh fruits and vegetables in Downtown.
A nonpartisan think tank that advocates for poor and working class families is urging that Ohio adopt its own version of the federal Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC).
The group, Policy Matters Ohio, said a state version of the federal tax credit, set at 10 percent, would divert just $210 million from Ohio’s coffers but would benefit 949,000 low-income working families across the state. Such a credit would provide families with an average of $221 each, which Policy Matters Ohio described as “modest but helpful.”
Currently 24 states and the District of Columbia have Earned Income Tax Credits, ranging from 3.5 percent to 50 percent of the federal credit.
“A state EITC program enables families to work and build assets while reducing the impact of regressive income tax changes,” said a statement released by Policy Matters Ohio.
“A state EITC makes sense because recent changes to the personal income tax have provided greater tax reductions for higher-income earners than they have for lower- and middle-income families,” the statement continued.
The federal EITC is a refundable tax credit for low- and medium-income individuals and couples, and is considered the nation’s largest poverty relief program. When the credit exceeds the amount of taxes owed, it results in a tax refund to those who qualify and claim the credit.
To qualify for the EITC, a recipient must have earned income of $49,000 or less. The credit is worth significantly more for families with children and is refundable, which means families receive cash refunds above their tax liability.
Created in 1975, the federal EITC is aimed at helping lift families with children about the poverty level, along with offsetting the burden of Social Security taxes and maintaining an incentive for people to work.
In Ohio, 949,692 people currently claim the federal EITC. The credit generates $2.1 billion for state residents, and the average refund is $2,211.
Founded in 2000, Policy Matters Ohio is a nonprofit, nonpartisan policy research organization that seeks to create “a more prosperous, equitable, sustainable and inclusive Ohio,” through research and policy advocacy.
Based in Cleveland and Columbus, the organization is funded primarily through grants from groups like the Ford Foundation, the Sisters of Charity Foundation, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, the Corp. for Enterprise Development and others.
Cincinnati, Hamilton County and Greater Cincinnati experienced dramatic drops in the seasonally unadjusted unemployment rate between January and February, according to new data released by the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services (ODJFS).
In Cincinnati, the seasonally unadjusted unemployment rate dropped to 7.5 percent in February, down from 8.6 percent in January. The civilian labor force, which measures the amount of people working and seeking jobs, also dropped from 139,400 to 138,900, which means less people were looking for work. The amount of people employed rose from 127,400 to 128,600 and the amount of people unemployed dropped from 12,000 to 10,300.
At the county level, the civilian labor force remained steady, while the seasonally unadjusted unemployment rate dropped from 7.9 percent in January to 7.1 percent in February. Across all of Greater Cincinnati, the unemployment rate dropped from 8 percent to 7.4 percent, even as the civilian labor force grew by 1,300 — a sign that more people in the region are looking for work.Michael Jones, research director at the University of Cincinnati Economics Center, says the report was encouraging and consistent with the past few years’ trends: “We’ve seen a lot of activity in the Cincinnati area. We know a few companies have been actively growing their businesses.”
The gains were also improvements in a year-over-year comparison. In February 2012,
Cincinnati’s seasonally unadjusted unemployment rate was 8.4 percent,
Hamilton County’s rate was 7.8 percent and Greater Cincinnati’s rate was
8.2 percent. The civilian labor force was also larger in
Cincinnati, Hamilton County and Greater Cincinnati in February 2012, but less people were employed across-the-board.
Jones says looking at employment numbers is a much better way to gauge economic health than looking at the size of the civilian labor force. While employment purely measures job growth, the civilian labor force can be driven by demographic changes — including an aging, retiring population — and people going back to school full-time, according to Jones.
In February, Ohio’s seasonally unadjusted unemployment rate was 7.6 percent, and the U.S. seasonally unadjusted unemployment rate was 8.1 percent.
Jones says Cincinnati and Ohio are poised to continue strong growth: “We have a strong health care sector. As health care continues to be an important component of our economy, … Cincinnati is very well positioned to capture that growth.”
State and federal numbers are typically adjusted to account for seasonal employment patterns, while local numbers are not.
Unemployment numbers are calculated through a household survey. The unemployment rate gauges the amount of unemployed people looking for work in contrast to the total civilian labor force. Since the numbers are derived from surveys, they are often revised in later months.
Update (3:54 p.m.): This story was updated with comments from Michael Jones, research director at the University of Cincinnati Economics Center.
A new report has found that some of the best jobs in Cincinnati in 2020 will not require college degrees.
The report, which was done in a collaboration by Agenda 360, Partners for a Competitive Workforce, the Strive Partnership and Vision 2015 using U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data, found that 46 percent of jobs in 2020 paying the city average of $33,310 and more will only require a high school diploma or an equivalent to a high school diploma. Twenty-four percent will require bachelor's degrees, and 15 percent will require associate's degrees.
The best-paying, fastest-growing jobs by 2020 will be health care practitioners and any job involving computers and math and science, according to the report. Business and financial jobs will continue being among the best paying, but growth in that area is expected to be fairly timid. Health care support jobs will grow very quickly, but those jobs typically fall below the median wage.
The report also found some of the industries that workers might want to avoid. Food service will grow slowly and pay the worst, the report found. Transportation and production will pay slightly better, but they won't grow much.
The report also found that Cincinnati will continue to grow and be among the top economies. The report estimated that Cincinnati will add 106,115 new jobs by 2020. That should bring Cincinnati to slightly more than 1 million jobs, putting it ahead of competitors Cleveland, Columbus and Austin, Tex. However, Cincinnati will still lag behind Minneapolis, Denver, St. Louis and Pittsburgh in the jobs market.
The full report can be read here.
There’s a catch — municipal employees only get the raises and job security if the city’s parking meters, garages and surface lots are leased to a private company for 30 years.
City Manager Milton Dohoney wants to lease the facilities for at least $40 million upfront and a share of parking profits for the next 30 years. He’d use $21 million of the upfront payment to patch a $34 million deficit in the city’s budget.
During recent budget hearings before City Council, Dohoney said extra revenue was needed to avoid the layoff of 344 city employees.
In a memo to the mayor and city council members, Dohoney outlined the agreement between the city and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME).
Any municipal employees who will lose their jobs because of the deal would be placed in other city jobs with no loss of wages. No city employees covered by the union would be laid off between 2013 and 2016. City employees will receive a 1.5 percent cost of living raise for the 2013-2014 contract year and another 1 percent raise for the next contract year. AFSCME members will continue city vehicle maintenance work from 2013-2016.
However, if City Council doesn’t approve of the plan to privatize parking, city employees get nothing.
Public employees in Cincinnati have not been given raises in almost four years. Meanwhile, council voted last month to give Dohoney a 10 percent raise and a $35,000 bonus. Dohoney had not received a merit raise since 2007, but had collected cost of living adjustments and bonuses over the years.
With a temporary boost to the federal food stamp program coming to an end this November, more than 1.8 million Ohioans — 16 percent of the state’s population — will receive significantly less food aid, according to an Aug. 2 report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP).
The report calculates that the cut is the equivalent to taking away 21 meals per month for a family of four. After the cut, the food stamp program will provide each person with less than $1.40 per meal, according to CBPP’s calculations.
Citing research from the USDA that shows many low-income families still fail to meet basic standards for food security, CBPP says the cuts will hit families that arguably need more, not less, help: “Given this research and the growing awareness of the inadequacy of the current SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) benefit allotments, we can reasonably assume that a reduction in SNAP benefit levels of this size will significantly increase the number of poor households that have difficulty affording adequate food this fall.”
Although the federal food stamp program has been cut before, it’s never been cut to this extent, according to CBPP. “There have been some cuts in specific states, but these cuts have not typically been as large or affected as many people as what will occur this November,” the report reads.
The reductions could also have a broader economic impact: Every $1 increase in food aid generates about $1.70 in economic activity, according to progressive think tank Policy Matters Ohio.
“Ohio’s foodbanks and hunger charities cannot respond to increasing hunger on their own,” said Lisa Hamler-Fugitt, executive director of the Ohio Association of Foodbanks, in a statement released by Policy Matters. “SNAP takes Ohioans out of our food pantry lines and puts them into grocery store checkout lines. It provides supplemental food to the most vulnerable among us. Now is not the time to further reduce this already modest assistance to struggling families.”
About 48 percent of Cincinnati children are in poverty, according to a 2011 study from the National Center for Children in Poverty. Despite that, city funding to human services that benefits low-income families has been cut throughout the past decade. CityBeat covered that issue in greater detail here.
The cut to the federal food stamp program kicks in automatically in November instead of the original April 2014 sunset date as a result of laws passed in 2010 by President Barack Obama and Congress. Obama and congressional Democrats are now urging legislation that would remedy the situation, but it’s unlikely anything will pass the gridlocked Congress.
Republicans are preparing a bill that would further cut the food stamp program, which they see as too generous and expensive. From Fox News: “Reps. Marlin Stutzman of Indiana and Kristi Noem of South Dakota, two Republicans who helped design the bill, said the legislation would find the savings by tightening eligibility standards and imposing new work requirements. It would also likely try to reduce the rolls by requiring drug testing and barring convicted murderers, rapists and pedophiles from receiving food stamps.”
The three measures set up $15 million to front to Duke Energy to move utility lines out of the proposed path; changes the source of funding to repay some $25 million in bonds used to pay for the streetcar; sells $14 million in bonds for streetcar improvements; and changes the municipal code to clarify that it is the responsibility of a utility to relocate its structures.
The $15 million comes from the $37 million sale of city-owned land near the former Blue Ash Airport.
Council voted 6-3 to approve the front money, improvement bonds and bond repayment, a vote that largely mirrored a Monday Budget and Finance Committee vote. Councilman Chris Smitherman was the sole “no” vote on the ordinance to change the municipal code.
Councilmembers Cecil Thomas, Wendell Young, Roxanne Qualls, Laure Quinlivan, Chris Seelbach and Yvette Simpson voted to pass funding, while Councilmembers Smitherman, P.G. Sittenfeld and Charles Winburn voted against.
“My concern with all of these votes … in particular the Blue Ash Airport dollars, these were promises that you made to the neighborhoods and I don’t have the confidence that the legal battle against Duke Energy is going to yield a 100 percent win for the city of Cincinnati, so there’s no assurance that these dollars are going to come back,” said Councilman Chris Smitherman, one of the most vocal opponents of the streetcar.
“I want to be clear that it’s something that I don’t support.”
The $15 million would be fronted to Duke to move its lines while the city and utility work out who is responsible for funding the move.
Duke estimates the full cost at $18 million and argues
that the lines would not have to be moved if the streetcar wasn’t being
built. The city maintains that it has always been the responsibility of
utilities to move or upgrade their structures — which the third measure
clarified in the municipal code. If the city loses a legal battle against Duke, it will not
recoup the $15 million.
The second proposal switches the source of funding for
streetcar bonds from money coming into city coffers from southern
downtown and the riverfront area to a 1995 fund set up to collect
service payments from the Westin/Star, Hyatt and Saks. The measure wouldn't use any additional new money for the streetcar.
That downtown area wasn’t bringing in as much cash as
expected but the city hopes to repay the other fund once the downtown
district — which includes the Banks and the casino — rebounds.
A local music teacher says Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy offered him a job and then rescinded the offer after asking him if he is gay. Jonathan Zeng says he went through the school's extensive interview process, was offered a position and then called back in for a discussion about religious questions in his application, during which he was asked directly if he is gay. Zeng says he asked why such information was pertinent, and an administrator said it was school policy not to employ teachers who are gay because they work with children and something about the sanctity of marriage. When contacted by local media CHCA released the following statement:
CHCA keeps confidential all matters discussed within a candidate's interview. We're looking into this matter, although the initial information we have seen contains inaccuracies. We will not be discussing individual hiring decisions or interviews.Cincinnati's deficit isn't going to get better any time soon, according to a new report.
Senate Republicans yesterday blocked a Democratic bill calling for equal pay in the workplace, and the Dems are going to stick it in their faces during this year's campaigns. From the AP:
As expected, the pay equity bill failed along party lines, 52-47, short of the required 60-vote threshold. But for majority Democrats, passage wasn't the only point. The debate itself was aimed at putting Republicans on the defensive on yet another women's issue, this one overtly economic after a government report showing slower-than-expected job growth.
"It is incredibly disappointing that in this make-or-break moment for the middle class, Senate Republicans put partisan politics ahead of American women and their families," Obama said in a statement after the vote.
"Even Mitt Romney has refused to publicly oppose this legislation," added Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. "He should show some leadership."
The Washington Post wonders whether Mitt Romney can use Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's template for surviving a recall election to try to win the presidency. It involves “big money, powerful organization and enormous enthusiasm among his base.” Exit polls in the state suggest Obama is ahead, however.
China wants foreign embassies to stop releasing reports and Tweeting about its poor air quality.
Gonorrhea growing resistant to antibiotics? Rut roh.
Dinosaurs apparently weighed less than scientists previously thought. Adjust paper-mache Brontosaurus as necessary.
Facebook is considering letting kids younger than 13 use the site.
The Boston Celtics took a 3-2 series lead over the Miami Heat on Tuesday and could send Bron Bron and Co. back home on Thursday.
Today is the end of the world. Whatever. Life sucks anyway.
Ohio’s unemployment rate dropped from 6.9 percent to 6.8 percent in November. Gains were concentrated in trade, transportation, and utilities, financial activities and educational and health services, with losses in construction, leisure and hospitality, government, professional and business services and information services. Overall, the state’s non-agricultural wage and salary employment increased by 1,600.
But could the recovery last? U.S. House Speaker John Boehner is now ditching efforts to avoid the fiscal cliff, a series of spending cuts and tax hikes set to kick in at the end of the year. Boehner could not get Republicans to vote on a tax hike for people making more than $1 million a year, which isn’t even enough to make President Barack Obama’s demand of increased taxes on anyone making more than $400,000. If the United States goes over the fiscal cliff, the spending cuts and tax hikes will likely devastate the economy. CityBeat wrote about U.S. Congress’ inability to focus on jobs here.
Ohio Gov. John Kasich finished the lame-duck session by signing 42 bills into law. The laws include loosened restrictions on gun control, an update to Ohio’s education rating system and $4.4 million in appropriations. The loosened gun control law in particular is getting criticized from Democrats in the wake of the Newtown, Conn., massacre. The law allows guns in the Ohio Statehouse garage, loosens concealed carry rules and changes the definition of an unloaded gun so gun owners can have loaded clips in cars as long as they are stored separately from guns. CityBeat wrote about the need for more gun control in this week’s commentary.
Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters suggested arming teachers to avoid school shootings, but a considerable amount of research shows that doesn’t work. Cincinnati Police Chief James Craig says arming teachers is a bad idea: “Certainly we can look at other options, but when you talk about arming school teachers or a school administrator without the appropriate training, and training is not just going to a target range and being able to hit center mass. How do you deal with a crisis? We're talking about a place with children.” Craig is now pushing crisis training as a major initiative.
Meanwhile, Sen. Rob Portman says school shootings need a holistic approach. The Ohio Republican says he will consider further restrictions on guns and armed school officials.
It seems a housing recovery is well underway. Cincinnati home sales are showing no signs of a slowdown.
Cincinnati is getting six historic preservation tax credits from the state government. As part of the ninth round of the program, the Ohio Development Services Agency is giving the city credits for parts of Main Street, parts of East 12th Street, parts of East McMillan Street, Abington Flats, Eden Park Pump Station and Pendleton Apartments.
The U.S. Department of Education is looking into whether Ohio charter schools discriminate against students with disabilities. Overall, charter schools in the state enroll as many students with disabilities as traditional public schools, but students with disabilities are concentrated in a few charter schools.
A federal judge upheld Ohio’s exotic animal law, which restricts who can own the animals in the state.
Judith French, a Republican, will replace retiring Justice Evelyn Stratton on the Ohio Supreme Court. Gov. Kasich’s appointment of French keeps the court’s makeup of six Republicans and one Democrat.
Genetics is perfecting the Christmas tree.
From the Twilight Zone archives comes Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Christmas special.