Cleveland is dead last in child poverty

Cleveland’s child poverty rate is the worst of any large U.S. city, according to new data released by the U.S. Census Bureau. American Community Survey 1-year estimates show that 48.7 percent of children under age 18 in Cleveland lived in poverty in 2017. That’s the highest child poverty rate of any city with a population of more than  250,000. Ohio is the only state with two cities in the bottom ten – Cincinnati is third, just in front of Detroit.

A lot is happening in Cleveland to address poverty, and a large number of programs and initiatives are aimed at children. The new data also contain some good news. As Joe Ahern explains in this piece, poverty fell across the country. That trend continued in Cleveland, where the number of children living in poverty is the lowest in 10 years, and the poverty rate is the best it’s been since 2008. Both the number and share of children living in poverty in Cleveland appear to have fallen between 2016 and 2017, but the changes aren’t statistically significant. All of the efforts in our community  contribute to that slight decline, but those efforts are not enough.

48.7 percent of children under age 18 in Cleveland lived in poverty in 2017

Focusing on children is a good investment, and one recent study found that every dollar spent to reduce child poverty results in at least $7 in savings for the U.S. economy. But most of those savings come when the child reaches adulthood, so we have to wait to realize those gains.

How can Cleveland climb from the bottom of the list sooner? Simply put, families with children need more money. The poverty rate measures the number of people or families who earn less than a set amount. The Census Bureau’s poverty threshold is adjusted for family size and the age of the head of household. It’s close to, but different than, the federal poverty guidelines that are used to determine eligibility and are reported as an amount per family size. In 2018, 100 percent of federal poverty level (often called FPL) is $20,780 for a family of three.

That means that efforts to reduce child poverty must include improving the entire family’s economic circumstances. A direct way to reduce child poverty is to help parents earn more. Moving from part-time to full-time work; finishing school and starting a career; and raising salaries and hourly wages can move a family out of poverty – immediately. Helping kids exclusively is a smart investment for the long-term, but it won’t get Cleveland off the “poorest cities” list anytime soon.