Timothy Sipes was born in nearby Cleveland 35 years ago amidst a promise of prosperity as endless as the smoke gushing from the steel-mill stacks on the flatlands of the Cuyahoga River Valley. His father drove trains in the freight yards of the New York Central Railroad; his mother operated a punch press at the Ace Metal Stamping Co. When Sipes grew up, jobs, and the pride that went with them, were there for the asking -- for a while.
Now Sipes is the man of the house in the yellow, wood-frame bungalow on Shoreview Avenue that was his boyhood home in this lakefront suburb northeast of Cleveland. The plentiful jobs are gone, and so is much of his pride. With his wife and two children, Sipes is on welfare and sees slim prospects of getting off.
"To be truthful," Sipes told a reporter recently, he thought only "blacks and hillbillies were on welfare. I threw a lot of stereotypes around about welfare. Now that I'm on it, my view has changed . . . . I find myself in the same boat . . . . I no longer consider people on welfare white trash. They're people trying to survive."
Sipes used to pull down about $1,120 a month at a shop that repaired steel-mill equipment. For the last year, he's been scrambling to make it on half that much in food stamps and welfare grants. "It's hard to learn to survive when you really never had to," Sipes said. "But we learned pretty fast." So have thousands of others like him, who have emerged as the fastest growing group of new welfare recipients.
"The stereotype that welfare rolls are comprised exclusively of black, single women is not borne out in the statistics," said Mark Real, director of the Children's Defense Fund office in Columbus, the state capital. " This is principally a white, suburban" phenomenon. "You're talking about a steelworker in Youngstown or an autoworker in Cleveland who's exhausted his unemployment benefits. These are white people. These are all-American families."
Between 1979 and 1984, the number of persons in traditional two-parent households receiving Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) more than doubled throughout the nation and more than tripled in economically wracked Ohio, rising from 50,929 to 167,782. During that time, the number of single-parent AFDC households decreased slightly nationwide and grew by only 20 percent in this state.
Many of the new, two-parent-family recipients recently interviewed described the welfare experience with the same dissatisfaction and despair expressed by the unmarried black women who are the most commonly cited beneficiaries of AFDC, the largest federal-state welfare program that pays cash.
They said the cash grants -- a maximum of $360 a month for a family of four in Ohio -- are impractically low, and some casually volunteered that they have become welfare "cheats," earning unreported money on the side. Some said they would rather stay on welfare than take a minimum-wage job unless it offered medical benefits that would provide care on a par with Medicaid, the federal-state program for which most AFDC recipients automatically qualify.
Some, like one-time roofer Louis Kalnasy of suburban Parma, who pays $350 of his $360 monthly cash grant for rent, said they refuse to move into neighborhoods where housing might cost less.
"The only place I know is down in the ghettos, and I ain't going down there," said Kalnasy, who grew up in the Woodhill public housing project on Cleveland's impoverished East Side. "I came from there, and I ain't gonna let my kids down there."
These newcomers to AFDC primarily are refugees from the last national recession, which came early to Ohio, hit harder and left later than it did nationwide. Ohio unemployment, 5.9 percent in 1979, peaked at 12.5 percent in 1982 before falling to 9.4 percent last year. Since 1981, it has hovered 1.5 points to 3 points above the national average.
The fact -- frequently cited by the Reagan administration -- that more people are working now than ever before doesn't apply in the Buckeye State. Last month, 54,000 fewer people were working in Ohio than in 1979. (Unemployment began to rise sharply in Ohio in 1980.) In 1979, there were 298,400 Ohioans looking for work but unable to find it. Last month, that figure was estimated at 475,000 -- an increase of 59 percent.
"Our state is experiencing . . . real structural change," said Gov. Richard F. Celeste (D).
Ohio's economy is recovering, but not for many one-time blue-collar workers like Sipes and Kalnasy, both of whom complain that their age, mid-thirties, is an impediment to employment in the remaining well-paying low-skilled jobs.
"Everybody says go to a service economy. But this is a union town," lamented Stephen Wertheim of the Interchurch Council of Greater Cleveland. "People were receiving $11 an hour and benefits. All of a sudden they're told to work for McDonald's."
Welfare is becoming a mainstay for many of those unable to enter the job market or land another job before their unemployment benefits run out, officials here said. Younger people with no work history go onto the singles-oriented Ohio General Relief program, whose rolls grew 284 percent between 1980 and 1984. Families turn to AFDC.
In both instances, Ohioans are fortunate. Only 33 states and the District of Columbia have some form of general relief program for the destitute. Only 23 states, Guam and the District take part in the Aid to Families with Dependent Children of Unemployed Parents (AFDC-UP) plan.
In some Ohio households, the fear of second-generation dependency is a strong deterrent to welfare, even in the face of chronic unemployment. Margaret Biacsi of Parma said her two children, 20 and 18 and no longer eligible for assistance through her AFDC grant, refused to go on general relief.
"They see how it affected me, and they don't want to get into that same rut," Biacsi said. "They want to be independent. They don't want to have money mailed to them and not work for it . . . . They're young and they just started out and they don't want to start out that way." They finally found jobs a few weeks ago.
Thousands of others, however, have stepped into the welfare lines in the state's 88 counties and experienced a rude awakening, according to Rose Anne Benson, chief of the public assistance division of the Ohio Department of Human Services.
"Their expectation is far different from what really is," Benson said. "When you explain that a maximum benefit for a family of four is three hundred-and-something dollars, they look at you and say, 'Who pays the rest?' You look at them and say, 'Nobody pays the rest.' "
For most welfare families, especially those in the suburbs who had lived on $7- to $10-an-hour salaries, rent is the largest portion of "the rest."
Kalnasy, who receives $360 a month for his family of four, said he once considered leaving his $350-a-month home for cheaper housing. But most of the less expensive homes are in Cleveland, and he said he was unprepared to accept the social consequences of moving back to the city.
His children, then in public schools, had gone to parochial schools while he was working. If he had moved, he said, they would have been bused as part of the city's desegregation program, and his daughter would have wound up at John Adams High School, which he attended as a youth.
"There was no way in the world that my daughter was going to that school," Kalnasy said. "I'm not saying it's a bad school, but she ain't going there. I know what kind of neighborhood that is. My daughter was 16 at the time, and I couldn't see her going to what was practically an all-colored school."
Another large portion of "the rest" is devoted to utility bills, which often exceed $200 a month during Ohio's long winters.
A state plan permits low-income households, including all those on welfare, to pay no more than 5 percent of their monthly cash income for electricity and 10 percent for gas during the cold season.
The rest is rolled over until the warmer months when monthly bills must be paid in full, along with some of the past-due amounts. Recipients sometimes avoid having service cut off through once-a-year emergency grants equal to one month's cash grant.
In Cuyahoga County, a family of four on AFDC receives $214 a month in food stamps, and rations often run out before the end of the month. At least 10 hunger centers, including one in once-exclusive Shaker Heights, regularly dispense free groceries to needy families in the Cleveland suburbs.
Some suburban hunger centers initially were met with muted hostility. The sentiment was, "If you can't afford to live in Euclid, get out," recalled Joe Drew, who runs the Euclid center.
Now, food lines are an accepted, if not expected, fact of life. "It's surprising to everybody in the suburbs ," said Jim Minard, director of the hunger center at Parma Lutheran Church, which served twice as many families in 1984 as it did in 1983. "They really realize that it's not just 'those people over there.' "
A 1984 Interchurch Council survey of suburban hunger center clientele found that seven of every 10 persons interviewed said they were high school graduates, four of 10 had applied for at least 20 jobs in the last year and three of 10 had worked six years or more on their last job.
Some have found that welfare is easier to deal with in the city, where there are more soup kitchens and more welfare-oriented businesses -- some of which draw their profit margin from food stamps, according to Timothy F. Hagan, chairman of the Cuyahoga County Commission. But the spread of welfare to the suburbs has made some new friends among former strangers and improved the image of welfare recipients.
"You used to be considered just, 'That old welfare.' Now they're calling you, 'The New Poor,' said Mabel Whatley, 53, president of the Greater Cleveland Welfare Rights Organization, with a chuckle. "They've even changed the name of the welfare department now to the Department of Human Services. So that means you're getting a little bit more dignity to it."
Timothy Barton, 24, of Parma, was laid off in 1981 and did not obtain another job until last month. During much of that time, Barton, his wife, Margaret, and their child received welfare. The couple said they became more compassionate toward welfare recipients while on the rolls themselves.
But Margaret Barton said she was somewhat perplexed during visits to the welfare office downtown.
"You see all these people there, you know, and they have apathy. You can just tell," she said. "You feel sorry for them. But sometimes you wonder, they're not really trying to help themselves. You see them and they'll have five kids, you know, and they're pregnant again. And you wonder, why do they keep having these children and putting themselves into it?"
County Human Services Director Marjorie Hall-Ellis said the coming of the 'new poor' to the welfare roster has further blurred a once well-defined line between recipients, many of them now just out of the middle class, and caseworkers, many of them now just barely in it.
The fear of trading places is frightening, she said.
"We put her or him there and give them a stack of things to learn and master," Hall-Ellis said of the caseworkers. "We tell them to be polite and deal with this person's problems -- that are similar to the same problem they have as soon as they go home at night . . . . And they're a paycheck away from welfare themselves."