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Report: Cleveland’s poverty rate improving, but city still worst in U.S. for child poverty

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Posted at 6:11 PM, Sep 19, 2022
and last updated 2022-09-19 18:51:03-04

CLEVELAND — A report released Monday shows Cleveland is no longer the poorest large U.S. city. But it also found progress was erased on poverty among the city’s children.

The Center for Community Solutions [CCS] used recently released 2021 census data for its annual poverty report. The Census Bureau did not release its 1-year estimates for 2020 for cities, due to pandemic-related data collection issues.

In 2021, Cleveland’s overall poverty rate of 29.3 percent was slightly below Detroit’s 30.2 percent rate. The numbers are within the margin of error, so there’s technically no statistical difference.

“Cleveland remains a high poverty city, but it’s nice to not be at the very bottom,” said Emily Campbell, the Chief Operating Officer for CCS.

Cleveland’s poverty rate is 2.5 times the national average of 12.8 percent. It’s not a surprising fact for many of the organizations that serve the city’s poorest communities.

“I’ve seen families who move in with families. I’ve seen grandparents who’ve had to help with grandchildren because babysitting is not available. I’ve seen places where families’ hours were cut,” said Diane Zellmer, the Director of the Redeemer Crisis Center on the city’s west side. “It’s not lazy people. It’s people who need help.”

The organization’s food distribution has served 50 new families in August alone. Zellmer has noticed a startling need among older residents on fixed incomes. The Redeemer Crisis Center served 120 seniors in August, including 10 people over the age of 85.

“When you’re over the age of 85, you shouldn’t need to be standing in a food line. We need to do some thinking about how we care about people,” she said.

The Hunger Network of Greater Cleveland, which supplies the Crisis Center, saw the pandemic compound challenges for families. Director Julie M. Johnson expects times to get even tougher with the end of pandemic relief and high inflation driving up living costs.

“The price of everything, from food, fuel, electricity, increasing - it’s really left a lot of the families that we support in a deficit. So they’re worse off now than they were previously,” Johnson said.

She explained the Hunger Network served 61 percent more people in June 2022 than in the same time frame in 2019.

The CCS report found Cleveland has the highest poverty rate of any large U.S. city for young people. 45.5 percent of Cleveland children are living in poverty, including more than half of children 5 and under.

The report also highlighted racial disparities, which were especially exposed when looking at Cuyahoga County as a whole. The poverty rate for African American Cuyahoga County residents is 27.2 percent, which is nearly three times the rate for non-Hispanic white residents (9.4 percent).

“I don’t think there is any simple solution to addressing poverty,” Johnson said. “But I know that every entity in the city is trying really hard to make strides toward alleviating poverty.”

She explained the Hunger Network is partnering with the Greater Cleveland Aquarium this week to collect non-perishable food, as well as hygiene items and other donations. Donors can receive $5 off admission between Sep. 18-23. You can find more information about the Nourish Our Neighbors initiative here.

Read the full CCS poverty report by clicking on this link.

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