Rural Poverty and Rent Burden in Appalachian Ohio: A Dangerous Crisis

March 27, 2023
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By: Kyle Thompson, Policy Assistant and Alex Dorman, Research Fellow  

Poverty is a significant problem that impacts many different communities, families, and individuals across America. In Ohio, over thirteen percent of the population lives in poverty, and roughly 30 percent of the population lives near poverty (earning 200 percent of the federal poverty line). In addition to this, there is a significant amount of rental burden in the state, with 43.8 percent of Ohioans who rent occupying households in unaffordable housing.

 In Ohio, over thirteen percent of the population lives in poverty.

The poverty rate in Ohio has been consistently higher than the national average since 2015, and this has increased since the COVID-19 pandemic. When the pandemic hit, employment opportunites, behavioral health, and food insecurities worsened. These issues struck the core foundation of Ohioans everywhere, shattering the bedrock of security that upheld the state. This is most notable in Ohio’s southeastern Appalachia region, which was reported to have the highest economic distress[1].  

With this information in mind, my colleague Alex Dorman and I sought to delve into poverty data on Appalachia, hoping to uncover trends as to how rent burden and poverty overlap in some of Ohio’s most economically distressed counties.

Ohio’s Appalachian Region

Ohio’s Appalachia region flows from the southernmost portion of the state all the way to the northeastern end of the border. There are 32 counties which make up the region. These counties have some of the highest levels of poverty in the state. The Ohio Department of Development reports that from 2014-2018, 17 percent of the 1.9 million people (about twice the population of South Dakota) in the region were within poverty status. Out of the 88 counties that make up Ohio, the nine counties with the highest poverty rates in the state (greater than 20 percent of their residents) were all in Appalachia.

Poverty shows up differently in rural versus urban populations

Community Solutions recently hosted a webinar on our new Ohio legislative district fact sheets. In this presentation, the most up to date poverty rates by Ohio House and Senate districts in various regions of the state were briefly explored, with the largest concentrations of poverty occurring in districts throughout much of Appalachia, and the large city centers (Columbus, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Toledo, and Dayton).  

Even though similarly high concentrations of poverty exist in rural and urban areas, it is important to acknowledge that this poverty is experienced differently. For example, Cuyahoga County has a long history of segregation, racist policies and disenfranchisement of primarily Black communities that contributes to stark rates of poverty. This history has distinctly shaped the way individuals within Cuyahoga county engage with, locate, and advocate for proper resources.  

Appalachian legislative districts by contrast have populations that tend to live in rural, spread-out communities. These areas may lack resources due to transportation, large distances between service providers, and digital communication. Other examples of these disparities can be found in the lower supply of health care providers, specialists, and dentists in Appalachia.  

The maps below detail the percentage of Ohioans living in poverty by both House Districts (in blue) and Senate Districts (in red).  



 While the highest rates of poverty may be in Ohio’s cities, Appalachia accounts for the largest swaths, geographically, of the state living in high rates of poverty.

What becomes immediately apparent after looking at these maps is the Senate and House districts that overlap with the 32-county region of Appalachia indeed show high concentrations of poverty, especially concentrated in the Southern portion of the state. Another observation is that while the highest rates of poverty may be in Ohio’s cities, Appalachia accounts for the largest swaths, geographically, of the state living in high rates of poverty. Many of the districts in the region had a poverty rate of at least ten percent of its population in poverty, and in southern Appalachia at least 15 percent.

Housing burden in Appalachia: renters fare far worse

The maps below show the density of Ohioans living with housing burden for both homeowners and renters. Housing burden is when 30 percent or more of your annual household income goes towards paying for housing related costs. Same as before, the maps in blue show House Districts and the maps in red show Senate districts.  

The maps show that some of the highest percentages of housing burden for homeowners and renters are found in the same areas of the state, illustrating the fact that both housing burden and poverty is a very real phenomenon impacting many Ohioans living in Appalachia. Of note, the concentration of the population experiencing housing burden for homeowners was less pronounced in the eastern portion of the Appalachian region than it was for renters. The exact reason for this is unknown, but it would seem to indicate a prominent disparity within the region between homeowners and renters.  




OhioBuilds: A strategy to aims to address poverty and rental burden

Recently, the DeWine administration announced that there would be a $500 million investment that will work to help open doors to growth, innovation, and opportunities for new development. This program is meant to be part of the “OhioBuilds – Small Communities, Big Impact – A Plan for Appalachia” program, which works to unite Appalachian communities on transformational projects. There are three dimensions to these projects:

  • Infrastructure, including downtown development
  • Health care and bolstering school/community-based services
  • Increasing workforce development through public-private partnerships and supporting/coordinating job trainingFrom these initiatives, there could be significant opportunities to address poverty and rental burden in Appalachian Ohio. Through more programs spearheaded by community advocates and efforts of the DeWine Administration, there is potential for transforming the region of this state, and shining a light on much of the disparities that exist there.  

[1] 4 Hall, Orman. (2019). The Ohio Alliance for Innovation in Population Health. Economic Distress Analysis. Accessed from:

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