The Faces And Families Behind The Growing Athens County Poverty Numbers

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On this fall evening and many like it, Louisa and A.J. Barron watch their kids be kids.

To their two-year-old son Daughtry and five-year-old daughter Dallas, life is simple. But to Louisa and A.J., things aren’t so easy.

“We try and make it look, at least to the kids, that there’s not, you know, a problem because they don’t see it,” Louisa said.

With four to feed, bills to pay, and no income to speak of, Louisa and A.J. make tough choices.

“What do you need more? You know, do you need your butt to stay warm or your feet to stay warm?” Louisa said.

The 23-year-old mother and 17-year-old father are unemployed. Finding work is a challenge for this couple, as neither has a high school diploma. Louisa is seeking her G.E.D and A.J. is finishing high school online.

They receive food stamps and medical coverage from Job and Family Services, and their home is paid by federal assistance. Their only cash comes in the form of child support – just $110 per month. They use this money to pay their bills.

“There’s going to come a day that we’re not going to be able to live off of the child support,” Louisa said, “Um, it’s a scary thought, but nobody has promised tomorrow.”

The Barron family is among thousands of Ohioans who are completely dependent on government assistance. In Athens County, the number of people without an income continues to rise. 

The latest statistics from the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services indicate that 1,873 Job and Family Services clients in Athens County had no income in September of this year. This number is substantially larger than it was five years ago, as 1,362 clients in Athens County did not have an income in September of 2007.

Nick Claussen, the community relations coordinator for the Athens County Department of Job and Family Services, thinks the large number of people living without an income in the county is frightening.

“It’s scary. If you don’t have an income, you might feel like there’s no hope. You might feel – people come in and they feel ashamed. They don’t want to ask for assistance. People don’t want help,” he said. 

Joshua Moore, a resident of the Plains, is one Job and Family Services client that feels ashamed to receive assistance.

The 26 year old worked for Global Recycling in Columbus until he injured his back in August when a 400 pound piece of steel fell on top of him. He’s now bedridden and in a dispute with workers’ compensation.

Without an income or compensation for his accident, Moore relies on government assistance.

“It kills me to go in and use a food stamp card knowing that I can’t support myself anymore—that I have to rely on somebody else,” he said.

This hard-working man who said he always paid his bills on time and had never been in debt, now sits in it.

“I have never had a debt or a bill hanging over my head. It was always paid the day I got the bill. Now we’re struggling to keep car insurance and keep the electric on and so on,” Moore said.

He said he picks and choose which bills he can pay. His medical bills remain untouched, and he’s at least one to two months behind on most of his payments.

While Moore and many others are uncomfortable with their dependence on assistance, the Barrons say they haven’t lost their pride.

“We’re good parents and a good family. Just make it through everything that we have been through,” A.J. said.

“It’s a growing thing to be on assistance,” Louisa said. “Everybody’s doing it and it sounds like peer pressure but it is. I mean everybody’s doing it.”

Everybody may be doing it, but Claussen said the assistance that Job and Family Services clients receive isn’t much.

“If you’re just living in the system, you’re not going to get by very well. I mean we don’t give you enough money to get by,” he said.

Louisa said she’s mastered the best way to survive on her assistance.

“It can be done. There’s a bunch of people that don’t take their resources and use them all like they should, but there are a bunch of people who take their resources and put them all to good use no matter how little they get,” she said.

She plans weeks in advance before using her food stamps.

“I start my list a couple weeks before we actually go to the store. That way I have some time to look over it. I’m kind of like Santa. I’m making his list and checking it.” Louisa said.

Without the funds to entertain their children outside of the home, Louisa and A.J. find joy in the simple things.

“I think it has definitely made us all a lot closer,” said Louisa. “It just kind of makes me appreciate the small things like being able to watch a movie with them or being down here popping the popcorn that we’re going to put in one of those fake movie theater cups and send them to watch a movie.”

She said their situation has also taught their children a life lesson.

“They like the things that they have, and they also at the same time are learning that you can’t have nice things if you don’t take care of them. You know, your shoes have to last you so don’t use them as brakes on your bicycle,” she said.

While Louisa and A.J. continue to make tough choices, their kids will continue to be kids.