[Homestead] A belly full of GOP, Donkey Valyoos
tvoivozd at infionline.net
Sun Aug 29 15:38:15 EDT 2004
*A Quiet Crisis*
The capital of need
*Cleveland's rise to top of census bureau's poverty rankings is the
culmination of 50 years of decline and abandonment *
Sunday, August 29, 2004
Cleveland is now America's poorest big city. So says the U.S. Census Bu
Based on its most recent surveys, the bureau estimates that nearly one
in three Clevelanders lives below the poverty line. For children, the
numbers are even worse: Almost every second youngster in this city is
poor. Those shocking numbers have pushed Cleveland slightly ahead of
Newark, N.J., in both categories.
In human terms, those numbers mean that too many of our neighbors go
hungry, cannot maintain their homes, cannot honestly pay their bills. It
means that many Clevelanders work at jobs that will not support a family
at more than subsistence level. It means that too many children here
grow up without the examples of even modest success that might help
encourage them to stay in school, to abstain from drugs and premarital
sex, to imagine a better life.
Cleveland's sad rankings should surprise no one. The bureau's 2001
American Community Survey identified Cleveland as the second-poorest
city in the land. A year later, it ranked third. Layer on a lingering
recession - a depression in many city neighborhoods - with its attendant
loss of manufacturing jobs, and Cleveland's ascent to No. 1 was probably
Nor is this prevalence of poverty a recent phenomenon. The city has been
in decline for half a century, bleeding population and wealth first to
suburban Cuyahoga County and more recently to adjacent counties.
Middle-class flight, fueled by racial tensions and an understandable
desire to escape the problems of city life, has been a defining
characteristic of Cleveland for as long as most can remember. A glaring
lack of educational achievement means that many residents here are
unable to compete in a demanding global economy.
Anyone who has bothered to walk around this city already knows it has
been growing ever older and poorer. And yet it is a little shocking to
wake up one morning and see it made official across the top of Page One:
"Cleveland No. 1 in big-city poverty."
No one wants that distinction. And yet, this sad reality ought to inject
a sense of urgency into every discussion about this city and this
region's economic future.
It ought to force foundations and educational institutions, churches and
corporations, government officials and private-sector leaders to open
their eyes and ask what they can do to change the status quo. It ought
to encourage every one of us, haves and have-nots alike, to consider
what individual responsibility we can take to raise the boats in which
all of us - from Old Brooklyn to Twinsburg, from Kinsman to Avon Lake,
from Glenville to Mentor - sail together.
Make no mistake: The tide of poverty is rising throughout the country.
The census bureau's new report estimates that 1.3 million Americans fell
into poverty in 2003, nudging the poverty rate from 12.1 percent to 12.5
percent. Recent job growth may have capped that trend, but the
persistence of poverty for one American in eight ought to be an issue in
this fall's presidential campaign.
Both President George W. Bush and Sen. John Kerry talk endlessly about
their values. A dedication to alleviating poverty amid America's
enormous wealth ought to be among them.
The federal government could help Cleveland - and the other urban
centers where poverty flourishes - reverse the effects of decades of
abandonment by offering incentives to clean up old industrial,
commercial and residential properties. Cleveland alone has hundreds of
these brownfields. They lie unused and ugly, even as potential employers
leave the city or bypass it because they cannot find the right space to
This cycle of abandonment drives development ever farther from the core
city. Farm land and wetlands are devoured; small communities lose their
character. The state of Ohio often underwrites this sprawl with highway
and infrastructure decisions rather than encouraging redevelopment of
Meanwhile, the state's inability to create a new system of funding
public education forces Cleveland and other urban centers to impose
ever-higher taxes on a populace that is increasingly poor. Urban schools
suffer, parents and children lose hope, employers cannot find the human
capital they need and poverty grows more concentrated.
It is worth noting this new census report's statistics for the eight
counties of Greater Cleveland. Poverty in the city went from 24.3
percent in 2000 to 31.3 percent last year. Poverty for the entire region
rose only slightly, from 11.8 percent to 12.5 percent. Median household
income in the region actually grew during this recession.
Some who live far from city will draw comfort from those numbers. They
may even congratulate themselves on being wise enough to live where they
do. But that is a fool's complacency.
One study after another has shown that regions with weak central cities
do not enjoy the prosperity that those with vibrant cores do.
Cleveland's woes hurt everyone in Northeast Ohio. That's why it is in
everyone's interest here to aid the city's revival.
Of course the city's leaders - notably the mayor and council president -
have to understand that, too. They have to be willing to work as
partners with suburban officials and to finally understand the obvious:
that the tighter they cling to their piece of the pie, the smaller it
We have had lots of summits of late. County commissioners have gotten
together to talk about economic development. So have foundation leaders.
The business community is trying a more regional approach. They now need
to come together and commit to a plan of action.
No one wants to live in the poorest city in America. But without
concerted effort, the distinction will be hard for Cleveland to lose.
Copyright 2004 cleveland.com. All Rights Reserved.
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