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More reliable 2021 Census estimates have erased progress on Cleveland children’s poverty

Emily Campbell
Chief Executive Officer
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September 19, 2022
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The first reliable data on poverty in Cleveland during the COVID-19 pandemic was released last week. The U.S. Census Bureau’s 2021 1-year estimates show that nearly 105,000 people in the City of Cleveland lived in poverty in 2021. Of those, more than 33,500 are children. At 45.5 percent, Cleveland has the highest child poverty rate of any large U.S. city with population greater than 300,000. Cleveland just edged out Detroit to be second worst for working age poverty, and fourth in older adult poverty, ahead of Miami, Boston, and Philadelphia.

 Poverty fell overall and for each age group including children, working age adults, and older adults.

The 2021 numbers contained some good news

Cleveland’s overall poverty rate of 29.3 percent was slightly below Detroit (30.2 percent) which means that Cleveland was the second poorest large city in the country in 2021. Poverty fell overall and for each age group including children, working age adults, and older adults. But the 2021 estimates are within the margin of error, so statistically, poverty remained the same. And Cleveland remains a high-poverty city. Cleveland’s overall poverty rate is nearly 2.5 times the U.S. average of 12.8 percent.

Poverty by Age, 2021

Wait, didn’t Cleveland's poverty rates fall in 2020?

This local data stands in stark contrast to the Supplemental Poverty Measure information released on September 13, which showed dramatic improvements in poverty for children across the country in 2021. The differences are due to the methodology used to count household financial resources and define poverty thresholds. Read more about Supplemental Poverty Measures here.  

Local poverty statistics only count pre-tax income and do not take into account the many federal government assistance programs which help families make ends meet. These include SNAP, free and reduced lunch, Medicaid, and housing vouchers. They also leave out refundable tax credits, which had a particular impact on families with children in 2021, thanks to the enhanced Child Tax Credit.  

Poverty by Age, Ohio, 2010-2021

Important takeaways from the 2021 local poverty data

  • About 46 percent of people living in poverty in Cuyahoga County are in the suburbs, meaning they live outside the City of Cleveland.
  • Racial disparities in poverty persist and are especially pronounced when looking at Cuyahoga County as a whole. The poverty rate for Black and African American Cuyahoga County residents is 27.2 percent, near ly three times the rate for non-Hispanic white residents (9.4 percent).
  • According to official poverty measures, the younger you are the more likely you are to live in poverty. Over half of Cleveland children under age 5 were in poverty in 2021.
  • Over one-third of Clevelanders over age 16 in poverty worked at least part time for at least part of the year. This included 5,000 adults who worked full time for the full year, yet were still below poverty.
  • Poverty rate decreases as educational attainment increases. But in Cleveland, more than 1 of every 10 adults with a Bachelor’s degree or higher were living in poverty.
  • In addition to the nearly 105,000 people below poverty in Cleveland, there were another 85,500 people with household incomes between 100% and 200% of poverty. Many of these families still struggle to make ends meet, and all of them would qualify for food bank hunger assistance.
  • The poverty rate for Cleveland women who were employed was 13.4 percent, nearly double the poverty rate for employed men (7.5 percent).
 The Census Bureau did not release 1-year estimates for 2020 for cities, due to data collection issues caused by the pandemic.

The Census Bureau did not release 1-year estimates for 2020 for cities, due to data collection issues caused by the pandemic. Community Solutions did report on positive movement in data on child poverty in Ohio in 2020. Earlier this year we wrote that “time will tell if the promising drop in child poverty is an anomaly or the beginning of a trend.”  

What we can say for sure: the 2021 estimates have erased that progress for children’s poverty. Poverty for older adults continued to climb.  

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