Poverty Numbers in Cleveland – It’s Complicated

The research team of the Center for Community Solutions has been waiting all year to see if the improvements in poverty rate in Cleveland would continue. With today’s 2016 data release from the U.S. Census Bureau, the answer is… probably not.

There isn’t much we can say for certain about changes in poverty in Cleveland between 2015 and 2016 because none of the differences are statistically significant. The estimate for Cleveland’s poverty rate increased slightly, from 34.7 percent in 2015 to 35.0 percent in 2016. But that is a change of only 622 people (out of a population of almost 376,000 for which poverty status was determined), and the 2016 estimate is well within the margin of error for 2015. While poverty rates in Cleveland for all age groups remain below 2014 levels, it appears that the estimates for 2015 may have been slightly too low.

There are also some strange things in the data which prohibit us from getting a clear picture of poverty changes in Cleveland. For example: the estimated poverty rate for children under age 5 dropped a bit, but it went up for children ages 5-17. Typically when child poverty changes, it increases or decreases for all age groups. It also appears that the estimated poverty rate for adults without a high school diploma improved, but that poverty got worse for those with some higher levels of educational attainment. An increase in poverty rate for non-Hispanic Whites, but a decrease in poverty for Hispanics/Latinos has us scratching our heads. Since none of these changes is statistically significant, most of the differences between 2015 and 2016 are likely the result of how the data is collected and analyzed, rather than true improvements or challenges for those in our community.

But a few things are clear. Across Ohio, poverty rates for central cities are still much higher than the counties in which they sit. The largest gap continues to be between Cleveland and Cuyahoga County. And the news on Tuesday about poverty and median income for the U.S. as a whole was positive (read about that on our blog). The data from today show that Cleveland did not keep pace.