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Social Needs

By Stephanie Dunlap · November 24th, 2004 · All The News That Fits
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Cincinnati's population is younger, darker and poorer than it was 30 years ago. Those are some of the conclusions of a study released by the University of Cincinnati School of Planning. "The Social Areas of Cincinnati: An Analysis of Social Needs" is a statistical comparison of the city's population in 1970 and 2000. The study's dry title belies the import of its contents -- which should be instructive, if not startling, to policymakers.

For example, while the American population in general is aging, the city of Cincinnati is losing elderly residents. In 1970, nearly 18 percent of residents were age 60 or older. By 2000, the date of the most recent U.S. Census, the number had dropped to less than 13 percent.

"Cincinnati lost almost half of its elderly during the 1970-2000 period," the study says.

Higher sickness and mortality among the elderly poor could account for some of the decline, according to Michael Maloney and Christopher Auffrey, the authors of the study. Most of the decline in older citizens occurred in the city's poorest neighborhoods.

Perhaps the most striking finding is the dramatic redefinition of households in Socio-Economic Status (SES) areas I and II, which the study defines as lower-income and lower-middle-income.

"Family structure has changed fundamentally and radically since 1970 in the SES I and SES II neighborhoods," the study says. "Whereas in 1970 71.4 percent of children in SES I neighborhoods lived in two-parent families, by 2000 only 17 percent did so. ... Community organizers, social workers and others concerned about the poor city neighborhoods need to assess how practice and policy need to adapt to the new reality that the two-parent family is rapidly disappearing."

Poverty in the city is more pronounced, with 18.2 percent of families living below the poverty rate in 2000, compared to 12.8 percent in 1970. A little less than 70,000 citizens were below the poverty line in Cincinnati in 2000.

But like a twisted good news/bad news joke, the numbers tell a complicated story about the extent of poverty in Cincinnati

"The total number of poor families in 2000 was actually lower than in 1970, due to the city's overall population loss," the study says.

Racial segregation continues in Cincinnati, as "Social Areas" documents. Compounding that phenomenon is class segregation. The poorest Cincinnatians are African Americans, even more than 30 years ago.

"Segregation's worst effect is expressed by the fact that SES I is 81 percent African American in 2000, up from 55 percent in 1970," the study says.

Hispanics and African Americans appear to be one of the few groups whose numbers in the city are increasing. Both the number of African-American citizens and their percentage of the city's total population increased, reaching nearly 142,000 by 2000 -- a 13 percent gain in 30 years.

The realignment of the population of the seven-county metropolitan area covered by the study shows the cost of suburban sprawl.

"We have, in fact, through social policy, such as Euclidean zoning, set aside the great majority of the metro area's land mass and made it unavailable to the poor, the working class and minorities," the study says. "This has the potential for turning the American dream into a nightmare for all of us. ... The regions' unwillingness to confront sprawl-led development has produced a regressive and inefficient cycle that transfers human and financial resources from poorer neighborhoods to subsidize new infrastructure for the relatively wealthy."

The full study, including recommendations for reversing the trends, is available at www.socialareasofcincinnati.org.



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