Cleveland is now the poorest big city in the country

Cleveland had the highest poverty rate among large U.S. cities in 2019, overtaking Detroit, according to data released by the U.S. Census bureau last week. Although Cleveland’s overall poverty rate fell from 33.1 percent to 30.8 percent, Detroit’s rate fell faster and is now just barely below Cleveland’s at 30.6 percent. These estimates are close enough to be within the margin of error — but no matter the rankings, it is clear that Cleveland is a high-poverty city.

More than 6,500 of those adults in poverty in Cleveland worked full-time for the full year.

In 2019, more than 114,000 people lived in poverty in Cleveland, including 37,700 children and nearly 12,000 older adults. Cleveland remained dead last among large cities in child poverty, with 46.1 percent of children in the city living in poverty in 2019. More than 6,500 of those adults in poverty in Cleveland worked full-time for the full year, but did not earn enough to propel them above the poverty threshold.

The 2019 data shows a continuation of another concerning trend: an increase in poor seniors. The number and share of people over age 65 who live in poverty grew in Cleveland to 22.7 percent. Meanwhile, Detroit’s senior poverty rate fell to 18.8 percent. Cleveland rose one spot from being third-worst in older adult poverty to second, tied with Boston, MA and Tampa, FL. Only Miami, FL is worse. As shown below, poverty estimates fell for all other age groups between 2018 and 2019.

These changes are not statistically significant, and the data was collected in 2019, well before the COVID-19 pandemic and its resulting economic downturn.

Yet again, Ohio is the only state with more than one city with a population of more than 300,000 in ranking in the top 10 poorest big cities. Cincinnati maintained its ranking at sixth.

Data Source: U.S. Census Bureau, American Community Survey, 2019 1-Year Estimates, Compiled by The Center for Community Solutions, Large U.S. cities with total population above 300,000.

Even before COVID-19, this data shows that thousands of our neighbors struggled last year during a time of record unemployment. Today, there are more than twice as many unemployed people in Cuyahoga County as there were a year ago when this data was collected. About 40 percent of Ohioans report either they, someone in their households or both have lost a job since March 13. Early information suggests that federal assistance, such as stimulus payments and extra unemployment benefits, kept many of those people from falling into poverty during the first months of the pandemic. But as that extra help expired over the summer and thousands of Ohioans are still unable to find work, we suspect that poverty may rise quickly. Similar data for 2020 will not be available until next fall.