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Cleveland Narrowly Tops Detroit In List of Poorest U.S. Cities

Skyline of Downtown Cleveland viewed from a West Side rooftop.
Nick Castele
Ideastream Public Media
Cleveland's poverty rate in 2019 came in just a notch higher than Detroit's, according to newly released Census estimates.

Cleveland has passed Detroit to become the mid-to-large-sized city with the highest poverty rate in country, according to new annual U.S. Census Bureau estimates released this week.

Both cities have seen their poverty rates fall over the past few years, but in 2019, Detroit caught up with its smaller Midwest peer. At 30.8 percent, Cleveland’s poverty rate is just 0.2 percentage points higher than the Motor City’s, a difference within 2 percent the margin of error.

“There are lots of people in our community who don’t have enough money to get by,” Center for Community Solutions researcher Emily Campbell said. “Cleveland is a high-poverty city, and that doesn’t change whether we’re ranked No. 1, whether we’re the worst, or whether we’re fifth or even within the top 10.”

The center compiled a list of poverty levels for the top 10 cities with populations above 300,000. Cincinnati, the other Ohio city on the list, ranks sixth with a poverty rate of 23.1.

The Census collected these estimates in 2019 as part of the American Community Survey. They do not reflect the downturn caused by the coronavirus pandemic. The bureau defined the poverty threshold in 2019 as a yearly income of $26,172 for a family of four.

These figures rely on a smaller sample size than the decennial census numbers the federal government is collecting this year. Fewer than two weeks remain for the 2020 count, which concludes Sept. 30.

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Nick Castele was a senior reporter covering politics and government for Ideastream Public Media. He worked as a reporter for Ideastream from 2012-2022.