How fast can Butler County bounce back from pandemic? Census data has a guess

In an effort to predict which communities across the country are most susceptible to severe damage during pandemics, recessions or other distressing times, the U.S. Census Bureau this spring released “Community Resilience Estimates” for each county across the country.

According to the measures the bureau sorted them by, Butler County is predicted to be the 20th most resilient to such disasters, placing it in the top 23 percent of Ohio’s 88 counties.

Warren County was rated fourth, followed by Clermont at No. 5.

The census bureau said the CRE measure is meant to predict “the capacity of individuals and households within a community to absorb, endure, and recover from the health, social, and economic impacts of a disaster.”

“That seems pretty positive,” said Butler County Development Director David Fehr.

One Hamilton pastor who serves the poor, Rev. Felix Russo of the New Life Mission in Hamilton, said that group has been doing fairly well because of a “glut” of assistance for them. But he fears when that aid disappears, things will become significantly worse for them.

Least resilient, according to the experimental study, was Cuyahoga County, home to Cleveland; followed by impoverished rural counties of Noble and Vinton in southeastern Ohio; then Lucas County (Toledo); and Montgomery.

Hamilton County was listed as 13th most likely among the 88 counties to be deeply impacted, but other area counties fared better.

Government statisticians used 11 factors from 2018 (before the COVID-19 pandemic) — including economic, health conditions, age and language barriers — to predict people and areas most likely to suffer during a crisis.

Varying rates across the county

In Butler County’s case, 20 percent were believed to have 3 or more risk factors; 48 percent were estimated to have 1-2; and 32 percent were expected to have none. The predicted accuracy was fairly broad, at plus-or-minus-6-to7-percent.

Here’s a reason so many people have so many risk factors: One is being 65 or older; while three others are heart disease, diabetes and respiratory disease estimates taken from the 2018 National Health Interview Survey (NHIS). Other estimates came from the 2018 American Community Survey.

Here were other risk factors:

  • When a household’s income-to-poverty ratio is less than 130 percent
  • When there are one or fewer caregivers ages 18-64 in a household
  • Crowding: either more than 0.75 people per room in a household, or when a neighborhood’s density is greater than 4,000 per square mile
  • When there are communication barriers, defined as either language or when nobody in the household over age 16 has a high school diploma
  • If nobody in a household is employed
  • When somebody has a disability or significant handicap
  • If individuals lack health insurance

In large areas of West Chester and Liberty townships, among other eastern parts of the county, fewer than 15 percent of households are estimated to have three or more risk factors, while in parts of Hamilton and Fairfield, 33 percent or more have three or more, by the estimates. While parts of Middletown have among the lowest percentages of three-or-more risk factors, in some areas, more than half are believed to have three or more.

Hamilton Planning Director Liz Hayden said she feels “Hamilton is in a very good place to be resilient,” because on one hand, it’s urban, “but not super-dense at the same time, so we have the benefits of a close community and that social network that cares about each other, and able to walk to community amenities, but people aren’t overly on top of each other.”

Even where apartments are being built in Hamilton’s more crowded areas, there are balconies, and there are good amounts of parks, she said.

Resilience so far, yet still concerns

Russo said in a very strange year, numbers of people served by his food pantry actually have been down. But he worries about coming months, when government aid for the unemployed and others disappears.

“With our food pantry, and the services we provide, the numbers have been way down because there’s been what I kind-of think is a glut of assistance,” Russo said. “There’s been so much assistance, and now that that assistance is starting to go away, we’re seeing our numbers creep back up again.”

With two rounds of stimulus checks, some homeless people seemed to have better clothes and looked physically better, he said.

With the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farmers to Families Food-Box program, “skids and skids of boxes of food were being delivered to churches,” which some tried to give his program, but he lacked storage for the perishable food inside.

“With the way the shutdown has been and how it’s affected businesses, I hope I’m wrong, but I’m really concerned that once all the extra benefits and everything stop in a few months, we may be back at, or higher, than what we were before, of people we were serving. I hope I’m wrong — I really do.”

“The aftermath of all of this, I’m half expecting it to be even worse.”

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