Poverty. It is a word that can seem incredibly amorphous. But poverty is a serious issue not just in the Cleveland area, not just in Northeast Ohio, but across the country. Far too many people are suffering and experiencing economic conditions that limit personal success and societal growth.
While data released a few weeks ago show that there are fewer Clevelanders living in poverty than at any time since 2008, that same data show that suburbs now account for a higher share of population in poverty at any time in over five years.
Make no mistake, poverty is still widespread in the Cleveland area. With an unconscionable poverty rate of 34.7 percent, Cleveland ranks as 11th highest in the entire country among big cities. For comparison sake, the state poverty rate is 14.8 percent, which is nearly identical to the national rate. While new buildings, restaurants, and apartments are great for the image of the city, it is an absolute crisis that so many Clevelanders live in poverty.
The fact is that poverty is manifesting itself, with dire consequences. It need not be this way.
Investments in physical and social systems can have a domino effect on poverty rates, leading to decreased crime, increased accessibility to healthy food options, better educational performance, and other benefits to social, physical, and mental wellbeing.
What causes poverty? What are its root causes, and what can be done to combat it? There are a number of ways to approach this very sensitive issue, as it is a topic that affects families from all walks of life and across the social, cultural, and geographic spectrums. At the City Club on Oct. 14, we have an opportunity to hear from David Dodson from MDC, one of the nation’s foremost minds on how to build a successful and sustainable infrastructure that can combat property. Indeed, while it is a very complex and sensitive topic, it is worthy of discussion and, more importantly, it is worthy of action. It is imperative that those who are in positions of authority, as well as those who seek political power, identify common ground at the national, state, and local levels to come together and curb obstacles to overcoming poverty.
It is not enough to give lip service and pretend that inequity doesn't exist, that if you "pull yourself up by your bootstraps," then you should be able to achieve personal success. While individual ambition and work ethic is absolutely important, there are ways that society can come together in public and nonprofit policy that can increase the likelihood of individual achievement of one’s dreams. From education to health care to economic improvement and job growth, from fighting wage stagnation, to equal opportunity across gender lines, we have a window of opportunity that has not been seen since Lyndon Johnson declared the War on Poverty in 1964. At the City Club, in one of the nation’s most prominent marketplace of ideas, we approach this discussion with humility and with hope of helping to improve the lives of those in Cleveland who are suffering in poverty and those who want desperately to escape from poverty and get on a path towards success. We thank the City Club for their support and encouragement in formulating Friday's program and appreciate your attendance.