by Chuck Hoven
(Plain Press, July 2014)Several recent articles in the Plain Dealer touted Cleveland’s recent brain gain. In a June 10, 2014 article by Robert L. Smith titled Cleveland’s unexpected brain gain garners national attention, a reference is made to an a study by Richey Piiparinen and Jim Russell of the Center for Population Dynamics at Cleveland State University. Smith says the study indicates that, “the metro area’s young adult work force had bloomed into one of the nation’s brightest, largely because of new arrivals.”
Clearly, in the article, the reference is to the Greater Cleveland area, rather than the City of Cleveland as the following paragraph reveals: “Between 2000 and 2012, the study reveals, Greater Cleveland added about 60,000 college educated adults while losing about 70,000 adults who lacked bachelor’s degrees. The number of newcomers in the 25-to-34 age group grew encouragingly by 26 percent between 2006 and 2012.”
The reality is that while the Greater Cleveland metropolitan area (a five county area) may be experiencing only modest population loss, Cleveland and Cuyahoga County are still experiencing a massive exodus of people. According to a recent analysis of U.S. Census and demographic data from Cuyahoga County by the Center for Community Solutions, Cuyahoga County’s population now at 1,278,024 dropped by 9.1 percent since 2000.
Analysis of Census data by the Center for Community Solutions indicates that while 29.1% of adults in Cuyahoga County have a bachelor’s degree, 12.9% of adults in Cuyahoga County lack a high school diploma. Adjusted for inflation, the median family income in Cuyahoga County declined by 15 percent in the past decade going from $49.377 in 2003 down to $41,954 in 2012. Those income figures lag behind the State of Ohio.
The census analysis by the Center for Community Solutions also indicates that 17.7 percent of the people in Cuyahoga County lived below the poverty line in 2012. Children were particularly likely to live in poverty in Cuyahoga County with 30% of the children under age 5 living in poverty and 25% of the children ages 5-17 living in poverty.
Much of the population loss in Cuyahoga County has occurred in the City of Cleveland. According to census data (Source: NEO CANDO System of the Center on Urban Poverty and Community Development, MSASS, Case Western Reserve University) the City of Cleveland lost 17.1 percent of its population from 2000 to 2010, declining from 478,403 to 396,830. NEO CANDO indicates that in the year 2000 the median income for the City of Cleveland was $33,651. The data also shows that in the year 2000, 26.3 percent of individuals and 32.3 percent of families with children in the City of Cleveland had incomes below the poverty level. NEO CANDO estimate for the poverty rate in Cleveland from 2005 to 2010 show 31.15% overall poverty rate and a poverty rate of 38.66% for families with children under the age of 18.
Wards in the area served by the Plain Press have their share of poverty. In Cleveland’s Ward 3 the overall poverty rate from 2005 – 2010 is estimated by NEO CANDO at 31.77%, and the poverty rate for families with children is estimated at 42.46%. In Ward 14, the overall poverty rate for the years 2005-2010 is estimated at 36.69%, and the poverty rate for families with children is estimated at 45.72%. In Ward 15 the overall poverty rate for 2005-2010 is estimated at 45.22%, and the poverty rate for families with children is estimated at 52.75%. In Ward 12, the overall poverty rate for the same time period is estimated at 31.44% and the poverty rate for families is estimated slightly higher at 31.5%. In Ward 11, the poverty rate for 2005-2010 is estimated at 28.87%, and the poverty rate for families with children under the age of 18 is estimated at 32.37%
So while the scenario for the Greater Cleveland metropolitan area may show a nearly stable adult population and a “brain gain” amongst young adults, the overwhelming picture presented by looking at City of Cleveland data, or Cuyahoga County data for that matter, is that of growing poverty. The Center for Community Solutions cites data from the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services to show that in 2013, a large percentage of individuals in Cuyahoga County (21% or 273,673) used SNAP (Food Stamp) benefits in 2013. This represents a 52% increase in beneficiaries since 2006. Ironically this is the same time period that the Plain Dealer article mentions for the “brain gain” in the metropolitan area.
The Center for Community Solutions also notes that despite the increase in SNAP benefits, food pantry use in Cuyahoga County is also up by 23% since 2006 with a total of 1,040,575 visits in 2013.
While efforts to attract and retain the highly educated are to be lauded, Cleveland and Cuyahoga County need to also focus more resources on their low-income population, particularly families with children.
Survival for families with children has become particularly difficult in the City of Cleveland. A national study titled “2014’s Best and Worst Cities for Families” by WalletHub ranks the City of Cleveland as the 6th worst city for families out of 150 cities it studied nationwide.
A key factor in Cleveland’s low rating was the poverty level of families living in Cleveland. Cleveland ranked 148th out of 150 cities on that measure, with only Brownsville, Texas and Detroit, Michigan having a higher percentage of families living in poverty. Including other factors, Cleveland’s Socio-Economic Environment Rank as a place for raising a family was 149th out of 150 cities with only Detroit, Michigan ranking lower.
Even when Median Family Salary was adjusted for Cost of Living, Cleveland ranked low – 147th out of 150 cities, with only New York City, Miami, Florida and Newark, New Jersey being worse in terms of the how expensive the city is in relation to the amount of income earned by the median family.
Perhaps another indicator of family stress, Cleveland had the highest divorce rate of the 150 cities studied.
These statistics beg the question: What can be done to address the overwhelming poverty and the stress it induces on families with children? Perhaps the answer lies in part in the bright young people moving into our region. The challenge to these young people, and to all the citizens of the region, is to join in an effort to create a more just society.
In an article by Arthur Evenchik, titled Education for Struggle, which appeared in the Spring/Summer 2014 issue of Art/Sci published by the Case Western Reserve College of Arts and Sciences, describes the efforts of the Social Justice Institute at CWRU to educate young people to help bring about a more just society. In the article, Social Justice Institute Director Rhonda Y. Williams says, “the institute’s message is that we all have the power, the agency, the responsibility and the potential to bring about a more just society.”
Education for Struggle describes a 2011 conference where two elders of the civil rights movement, Diane Nash and Rev. Dr. C. T. Vivian spoke on the 50th anniversary of the Freedom Rides. They both offered sage advise to those organizing for social change. Rev. Dr. Vivian said, “There are certain battles you’ve got to win, and every struggle makes other struggles necessary. And if you’re not willing to fight the other struggles, you might as well have not fought the earlier ones.” According to the article, Rev. Dr. Vivian’s current efforts are focused on improving educational outcomes for African-American youth.
At the conference Diane Nash said, “It is such a mistake to expect politicians and government officials to do what is needed to be done.” She told the audience, “They will never do it. Hasn’t your experience with them shown you by now? They are not going to do the things that need to be done. You and I are the only people that are going to.”
According to the article, Williams hopes CWRU Social Justice Institute will be a means “to educate and inspire a new generation of youth leaders and social justice advocates.” Williams tells her students that activism is not simply showing up when something is organized. She says, “It takes intellectual, emotional, physical work to move people toward a more just society. It means figuring out what your social issues are, and building consensus. What action will we take? What are our campaign tactics? How do we build a platform?”
The hope for Cleveland and indeed Greater Cleveland’s future is that some of the bright, young people moving into the area will use their talents in the pursuit of social justice. Many more dedicated activists are needed to continue the struggle to bring about a more just society in Cleveland and Cuyahoga County.