Licking Countians see tale of two economies
NEWARK For the people of Licking County, theChristmas season approaches with two clashing views of the local economy.On one hand, the area enjoys unprecedented development, low unemployment, new employers and jobs, increasing wages and the expectation of more development in the coming years.On the other hand, families are struggling to make ends meet, filling up emergency shelters, seeking food, clothing and financial assistance. Some people stopped looking for work, whilemany more have a job, but still can’tpay their bills.Licking County Department of Job and Family Services (Photo: Staff photo)Deb Dingus, executive director of the United Way,said she’s seen the people who have not been lifted up by the improving economy. Many areone flat tire or doctor bill away from a serious financial situation.”It’s bad,” Dingus said. “People have been calling non stop. So many people are in need this year. Everybody is seeing it. All the shelters are full.”In 2015, the United Way’s ALICE report, estimated 55 percent of Newark households earned less than the federal poverty level or less thanthe basic cost of living for the county.TheJersey Baptist Church, in Jersey Township,planned tofeed 1,000 needy families at Thanksgiving,but the demand was so great they ran out of food. They took names and shoppedthe following weekfor thosewho showed up.Brian Bagley, church pastor, said, “We don’t see the demand. And then an event like Thanksgiving comes around and then, boom! it’s right there in front of you and you’re like, where are these people coming from? And how is this even possible? It’s unbelievable. It’s truly unbelievable.”Kaye Hartman, volunteer coordinator at Salvation Army of Licking County, said the Salvation Army fed more than6,000 last month at its soup kitchen, a few more thanprevious months.”So many more people working, but not working enough to get them out of the hole,” Hartman said.”None of them are working a 40 hour week. Or, not much of a wage.Commercial Realtor Steve Layman, a partner with Anderson Layman Co., said, “You’ve got a development oriented county. There are people who are interested in growing things.”Industrial development goes in cycles and waves. There’s still a lot going on. There’s still a lot in the pipeline. We’d expect 2018 will be a good year, too.”John Fisher, executive director of the Licking County Department of Job and Family Services, said he believes wages are beginning to increase.”My workforce staff tells me employers realize it’s a tighter job market and several are making that adjustment and increasing the hourly rate for entry level,” Fisher said.For some time, Fisher has said the majority of people seeking assistance are employed, but still struggling due to low wages.”Thirty years ago, thetype of job was different and the security of the job was different,” Fisher said. “There were more career jobs. The world has changed. More temps and part timejobs and skilled jobs sit vacant.”Fisher said he has not seen a spike in those coming to his department, seeking assistance. There were 17,147 individuals receiving food assistance in November, down 3.5 percent from one year ago.But, Fisher said, one number has increased.”Serving needy kids this Christmas,it will be one of our highest years,” Fisher said. “At least 640 kids will get Christmas through Families Helping Families. It’s always at least 500, and 500 to 550 is the traditional average.”It’s an increased need at Christmas for kids. The community donates. It’s not government money. The community has responded.”Hartman said more than 800 families, including 2,000 children,submitted applications for help for Christmas, about the same as last year.The Salvation Army shelter, which has a capacity for 60 people, had only two empty beds on Wednesday, Hartman said.”We’ve had a lot of calls for assistance with electric bills, and rental bills,” Hartman said. “We’re strapped. No cash. We haven’t been able to help with that.”Many of those in need are seniors, or people who’ve been in an accident or have a health issue, according to Jessica Boyd, director of client services for the Pataskala LEADS Center, part of the Food Pantry Network of Licking County.