The rising cost of child care and college, combined with the raging opioid crisis, continue to have a major impact on poverty in Ohio, a new report says.

"These problems travel through society like a cancer," said Philip Cole, executive director of the Ohio Association of Community Action Agencies, which publishes the annual State of Poverty in Ohio.

Despite that, Ohio has seen an 11 percent drop in people living below the federal poverty threshold since 2011. That's likely a result of an improved job market combined with Ohio's 2014 Medicaid expansion, in which 700,000 low-income residents gained health care insurance, the report states.

In 2011, Ohio had 1.85 million residents below the poverty level. By 2016, that had dropped by more than 200,000, to 1.65 million, or just under 15 percent of the state's population. The federal poverty level for 2017 was $12,060 a year for a single adult, or $24,600 for a family of four.

While the numbers got better, many people moved from below the federal poverty line to the next band, between 100 percent and 200 percent of the poverty level. "But more of them are still struggling financially," said Becky Zwickl, an assistant director with Thoughtwell, the Columbus research nonprofit agency that wrote the report.

Cole credits Gov. John Kasich's 2014 push to expand Medicaid for helping to drive down poverty. "Good health care allows people to get good jobs," Cole said. "People need to be healthy before they can work."

Even with the improvement, about 21 percent of the state's children, 31 percent of black people and 25 percent of Latinos of any race still live below the poverty level. More than 756,000 Ohioans, 6.7 percent, live in extreme poverty, making less than 50 percent of the poverty level. Children, again, are disproportionately represented in this group — a third of those in extreme poverty are younger than 18.

But the working poor continue to struggle in Ohio's economy due to a mix of issues, including the cost of sending a child to an Ohio public college, where there is now one administrator for every 14 students, an increase of 25 percent over about a decade, the report said. The state legislature has cut financial support for public universities by more than 14 percent over roughly the same period, while student tuition is up about 28 percent.

"If the General Assembly wants to build these big bureaucracies at universities, they should pay for it, not the students," Cole said.

The opioid epidemic contributes to poverty, too, the report said, noting that Ohio's 11 overdose deaths each day can leave children without a parent, and therefore without income. Half of all the children in the state's foster-care system have a parent struggling with drug addiction, the report says. The number of children in foster care is up 22 percent, to 15,000, since 2010, the report says.

Child care continues to bankrupt poverty-level parents, who spend 73 percent of their income on center-based day care. A single parent can spend 83 percent.

"Child-care costs can be overwhelming on their own, but combined with expenses of basic needs can far exceed a family's income," the report says.

bbush@dispatch.com

@ReporterBush