Making Change: Cleveland Named Poorest Big City... Again

This isn't the first time Cleveland has topped the list of America's poorest cities. Mayor Jane Campbell's reaction, upon getting the same news back in 2004, was to get a community dialog going to tackle the problem.

Jane Campbell (presiding over a Poverty Summit): ...and then we will split-up into break-out sessions. As you listen to the presentations, try to...

Three such "poverty summits" were held, and some might argue that not much came out of them. Perhaps it was because the next year Cleveland jumped from number one poorest city, to number 12. Or because Mayor Campbell became embroiled in what would be a losing campaign for re-election. Whatever the reason, attention to the issue of poverty in Cleveland receded to its normal level. Now, it's back to front and center with the new census report, and Mayor Frank Jackson, who defeated Campbell last November, says he'll take a different tack to getting at the problem.

Frank Jackson: I'm not here to criticize. All I'm here to say is that the time for conversation is over. The real proof is in the doing.

The mayor outlined his three keys to reducing poverty in the city - improving education, developing a trained workforce, and encouraging companies to invest in Greater Cleveland. In each case he gave examples of how he was working towards those goals by bringing in a new management team for the Cleveland schools, partnering with the County on workforce development, and promoting regional cooperation between all the communities of Northeast Ohio.

Frank Jackson: This is not a city of Cleveland problem. This is a systemic problem to this region that we have to address as a region.

Economist Mark Schweitzer with the Cleveland Federal Reserve says one way to do that is to slow the flow of people from the central city to the suburbs.

Mark Schweitzer: When we look at the numbers, we see that the number of people in the city above the poverty line is shrinking, and the number of people below the poverty line is stable.

George Zeller is an economic analyst with the Cleveland-based Center for Community Solutions, and he thinks the Census Bureau report needs to be taken with a grain of salt. He questions the methods used to collect and classify the numbers, and says it's difficult to prove that Cleveland actually is the poorest city in the country.

George Zeller: If you look at Ohio, you see that Cleveland has a defined boundary and is surrounded by a large number of suburbs in Cuyahoga County. In Columbus, Franklin County annexed almost all of the other suburbs, and so Columbus consists of the whole county.

He cautions that such discrepancies makes it difficult to compare cities across the nation. During the last full-blown census count, Cleveland Mayor Mike White and New York's Rudolph Giuliani took their complaint of a census under-count to the U.S. Supreme Court, but the justices sided with the Census Bureau's methodologies. Frank Jackson says that bickering over the current survey results does little good.

Frank Jackson: People complained last time, when we went from number one to twelve. How did that happen? That's not important to me. What's important to me is that we have the problem. And we have the solutions. And that we do something about it.

While analyst George Zeller isn't happy with the way the survey was conducted, he says it's still useful as a "reality check".

George Zeller: I wish the reality check was more accurate, but never-the-less, it's causing us to confront our problems. In that sense, it's a good thing.

David C. Barnett. 90.3.

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