The latest poverty numbers are an absolute embarrassment for Cincinnati. The rise in the poverty rate here the past decade was almost the highest among major U.S. cities.
We can’t fully celebrate Cincinnati’s renaissance as long as we have a 27.7 percent poverty rate, higher than it was before the Great Recession. The reality is if this keeps going, we’ll replace Detroit as the national poverty punchline.
There’s nothing funny about it, though.
Who’s to blame for Cincinnati having the third-highest increase in poverty rate among the nation’s 81 largest cities?
That’s right, I have to look at what I’m doing for the poor before casting stones at the politicians or bureaucrats or anyone in authority. We all do, every single one of us who cares about Cincinnati. Whether you live or work in the city, you must ask yourself:
What am I doing for the least of these brothers and sisters of mine?
Since an editor told me on Tuesday night about the new U.S. Census estimates, I’ve been thinking about what I’ve done to fight poverty in Cincinnati. I’m ashamed to admit, hardly nothing.
I gave $198 to a homeless shelter last year. Could I have done more? Well, do I need to spend money on a cup of cold brew every morning at Starbucks or the trendy neighborhood coffee shop or stop at UDF every afternoon to grab a Diet Mountain Dew?
Moreover, I have to ask myself: Did I give those donations truly to help the homeless? Or did I give the money for a small tax write off, and because I have friends who work at that nonprofit?
In almost two years, I haven’t volunteered one time. Not once. I haven’t served a meal to the homeless. I haven’t mentored a kid. It’s unacceptable. I’m not sure what’s more embarrassing: My inaction or our poverty rate? Did my inaction help contribute to the poverty rate?
I believe fighting poverty is a heart issue. It’s not about Republican or Democrat. It’s everyone’s responsibility to do something – companies, government, churches, social service agencies, you and me.
OK, now let’s cast stones at Cincinnati City Hall, which certainly isn’t doing its part. The politicians and bureaucrats over there are inept enough at addressing basic services like picking up trash and fixing potholes. How the heck are they supposed to tackle a complex, multifaceted, generational problem like poverty?
They could start by at least trying, and I’m not talking about creating another damn task force. They could quit fighting over silly stuff like the streetcar, soccer stadium, scooters, bike lanes and a laundry list of other things that aren’t all that important to most citizens’ everyday lives. Clear the distractions so real work on real issues can happen.
If City Hall is going to give money to agencies that help poor people, it needs to do a better job of choosing who gets funding. No more money for questionable organizations like the Center for Closing the Health Gap, which reportedly has few achievements to show for the millions in tax dollars it’s received from the city for years.
No more political pandering at the expense of helping poor people. And no more half-baked ideas for funding social services. This year, City Council hatched a flimsy plan to pay for social services by increasing the billboard tax. Mayor John Cranley told Council it was legally problematic, and lo and behold, it’s now in litigation.
These latest poverty statistics should be a Kyle Plush-like wake-up call for City Hall. Cranley and Council should spring to action on an anti-poverty plan the way they did on fixing the 911 call center after last spring’s death of the Seven Hills School student.
One idea for tackling poverty: Get serious about fixing public transportation. Get on the same page with the Hamilton County commissioners and business community to improve funding for the Metro bus system. Until that happens, the SORTA board will remain in neutral.
Our buses don’t connect city residents to the thousands of entry-level manufacturing and warehousing jobs in the suburbs. Many companies have a hard time finding and retaining good workers, and transportation is part of the problem. Business leaders need to turn up the heat on the politicians to fix this.
The poverty numbers, Cranley said, “remind us that we have a lot of work ahead of us.”
Let’s get to it.