Poverty Increases Again in Cleveland in 1994


            One-fifth of Cuyahoga County’s population now lives in poverty, according to the annual Poverty Indicators report released in early March of 1995.  In Cleveland 42.2% of the population live in poverty.  The county’s poverty rate has increased by 49% since 1980.

            The sluggish job-creation performance of Cleveland’s economy is still the main cause of local poverty growth.  “Persons are poor because no member of their household has a job that generates enough earnings to move the poverty level,” according to George Zeller, senior researcher at the Council on Economic Opportunities in Greater Cleveland.

            In comparison, the poverty rate of the United States is only 15.1 percent for 1993 (the last year the figures are available).  The 1990’s recession lasted ten months in Ohio and the United States, but lingered for three years in Cuyahoga County.  Thus the county lost employment during the 1990’s while the state and the nation experienced job growth.

            Since 1979, Cuyahoga County has lost fully two-fifths of its manufacturing jobs.  The devastating impact of manufacturing job losses has not been limited to the poor.  The 1990 census found the median incomes declined during the 1980s in all of Cleveland’s 35 neighborhoods, and in 38 of the country’s 59 suburbs.  Meanwhile, average incomes increased in 21 affluent suburbs at the edge of the county.  In metropolitan Cleveland, the rich are getting richer, the poor are becoming more numerous and getting poorer, and the middle class is losing income.

            On Cleveland’s east side, half (51.6%) of the population were poor in 1994.  More than one-quarter of Cleveland’s west side residents (28.3)%) were considered poor.  Between 1980 and 1986, most of Cuyahoga County’s poverty growth was concentrated in Cleveland’s east side.  But, all of the county’s growth since 1986 has been in the suburbs (a 17,100 person increase) and on Cleveland’s Westside (1 9,500 person increase).  Neighborhood depopulation has caused a decline of 4,700 poor persons since 1986 on Cleveland’s eastside.

            East Cleveland, where 41% of the population lives in poverty, is by far the poorest suburb in Cuyahoga County, but the poverty level is less that that of the Cleveland.  Other inner ring suburbs including Lakewood, Euclid, Parma, and Cleveland Heights have suffered from noticeable poverty growth recently.

            Many neighborhoods have poverty rates that greatly exceed the county average.  At least three-quarters of the population is poor in the Central, Kinsman, Fairfax, and Hough neighborhoods of Cleveland’s inner city. Poverty rates higher than 60% are also found in three additional east side Cleveland neighborhoods: Glenville, Union-Miles Park, and St. Clair-Superior

           Zeller points out that these findings are based upon official poverty income definitions set by the federal government.  A single person with an annual cash income of less than $7,360 is considered below the poverty level.  For an average family of three, the poverty income maximum is $12,320.  Most poor people in Cuyahoga County have incomes considerably below these maximum limits.

            The report attributed Cleveland’s poverty crises to several factors.  The most important cause has been the poor long-term performance of Cuyahoga County’s economy.  Between 1979-1993, Cuyahoga County lost $3.8 billion in real annual earnings from manufacturing jobs.  Increased annual earnings from growth in non-manufacturing jobs were only $1.5 billion.  Thus 10% of all Cuyahoga County paycheck earnings ($2.3 billion annually) have disappeared since 1979.  During that period, paycheck earnings increased by 5% in the rest of Ohio.

            The Cuyahoga County poverty rate for persons living in households headed by a single female parent is eight times higher than the same rate for persons living in married couples families.  The county’s percentage of all families that are headed by a single female parent increased from 18% in 1980 to 22.6 in 1990.

            The black poverty rate is four times higher that the white poverty rate in Cuyahoga County.  More than one-half of the black population is currently poor in the city of Cleveland.  The 1990 census found that 56% of Cleveland’s adult black males did not have a job.

            Poverty among the elderly has declined sharply for two consecutive decades in Cuyahoga County and in the city of Cleveland.  Average social security payments to Cuyahoga County households increased by 14% during 1980s, accounting for much of the decline in elderly poverty.  Conversely, the local poverty rate among children has skyrocketed.  Thirty-four percent of Cuyahoga County’s preschool children and 64% of all Cleveland preschool children live in a poor household.  A 54% cut in Ohio’s real Aid to Families with Dependent Children public assistance benefits since 1970 has increased the severity of local child poverty.

            Among the three major demographics factors, single female parent household composition is the strongest predictor of poverty status.  Race is the second most powerful determinant.  Low education levels have a significant association with poverty, but it is weaker than the effects of household composition and race in Cuyahoga County.

            The CEOGC report indicates two potentially effective anti-poverty strategies.  First, the number of adequate wage jobs available for Cleveland’s unskilled and semi-skilled workers must be increased.  The CEOGC report claims that manufacturing employment should be the number 1 priority of local economic development policy.  Second, a massive adult retraining effort should be organized, so that skill levels of the local labor force are more effectively matched with skill requirements of new local jobs that provide wages sufficient to lift people out of poverty. Cleveland did not successfully implement either of these strategies during the 1980s or the 1990s.

            The CEOGC is the anti-poverty Community Action Agency for Cuyahoga County.  In addition to its long -standing poverty research program, CEOGC administers the Head Start, the Community Services Black Grant, and the emergency Homeless program in Cleveland and its suburbs.      

            Copyright NEOCH and the Homeless Grapevine, Issue 10 May – July 1995