Economic Development

Valley’s Inner Cities Among Nation’s Most ‘Distressed’

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Seven ZIP codes that cover sections of Mahoning and Trumbull counties are among the most economically distressed areas in the country, according to a newly released nationwide analysis of economic vitality.

The Economic Innovation Group, based in Washington, D.C., this week published its 2017 Distressed Communities Index, an interactive tool for measuring the economic vitality of ZIP codes, cities, counties and congressional districts.

The study evaluates the relationship between community well-being and a number of factors including individual health outcomes, public assistance spending, demographics and political representation.  It reveals a growing divergence in the economic and social experience of America’s distressed communities from the nation as a whole – and the impoverished conditions across sections of the Mahoning Valley.

“Economic inequality in America translates into opportunity gaps for too many communities,” said Steve Glickman, co-founder and executive director of the Economic Innovation Group, in a statement. “Unless policymakers in both parties reframe their priorities, economically distressed communities will continue to experience a downward spiral that results in a loss of faith in the American dream and less healthy and fulfilling lives.”

According to the 2017 Distressed Communities Index, one in six, or 52.3 million, Americans live in a distressed community, places that are characterized by deep poverty, pervasive joblessness, low levels of educational attainment, and little to no economic growth. In the average distressed zip code, more than a quarter of the population lives in poverty, 40% of prime age adults are missing from the workforce, and nearly a quarter of adults lack even a high school diploma. Most of today’s distressed ZIP codes have seen a net loss in employment or business establishments since the year 2000.

The disparity is acute in Mahoning County, as evidenced by comparing study data for two ZIP codes – 44507 and 44512. The southern border of the 44507 ZIP code is Midlothian Boulevard; it stretches west to Hillman Street, north to Pyatt Street and east to South Avenue. The 44512 ZIP code is primarily Boardman Township.

The study identified 26,126 areas to be ranked in its distress index. The 44507 ZIP code was ranked No. 26,092 – just 34 places from the bottom. By comparison, the 44512 ZIP code was ranked No. 12,101 on the distress index.

Meanwhile, the 44506 ZIP code, which covers the city’s lower East Side, also falls near the bottom of the study’s distress rank, at No. 26,049.

By comparison, 44585, the ZIP code that covers Warren and some areas outside city limits, ranks No. 21,815.

The distress indicators include no high school diploma, housing vacancy rate, adults not working, poverty rate and median income ratio. In the 44507 ZIP code, for instance, 26.25 of adults lack a high school diploma and 60.1% are unemployed. The housing vacancy rate is 34%, the poverty rate 55.3% and the median income ratio 37.3%.

CLICK HERE to see Economic Distress Indicators for Ohio’s 6th and 13th congressional district, the city of Warren, and Youngstown ZIP codes.

CLICK HERE to see Economic Distress Indicators for Mahoning Valley suburban ZIP codes.

While economic disparities between places are magnified in the report, it also finds a clear link between an individual’s health outcomes and the economic conditions of their community.  Residents of distressed counties have a lower life expectancy than their neighbors in prosperous counties by nearly five years.

Meanwhile, America’s prosperous ZIP codes, the nation’s most populous and economically vibrant places, are largely insulated from the challenges facing the rest of the country. These communities are home to 84 million people, and they garnered more than half of the recovery’s new jobs and business establishments. The poverty rate is more than 20 points lower in the average prosperous community than in the average distressed one, and residents enjoy incomes that approach, on average, 150 percent of their statewide median.

Additional findings from the study include:

  • High growth in a few economic powerhouses buoys national numbers while obscuring stagnant or declining economic activity in other parts of the country. The average distressed zip code lost 6% of its jobs from 2011 to 2015, and the number of business establishments decreased by 6.3%.  Economic expansion was widespread in prosperous ZIP codes, by contrast, with 88% experiencing job growth from 2011 to 2015 and 85% registering establishment increases.
  • Disparities in educational attainment are closely linked to the diverging fates of communities. Nearly a quarter of Americans living in distressed communities have not completed high school, and more than one-third have no education beyond a high school diploma or equivalent. In fact, advanced degree holders – those with master’s or doctorate degrees – are more prevalent in prosperous communities than college graduates are in distressed ones.
  • The DCI reveals massive disparities in physical well-being that parallel those in economic well-being. From complications with pregnancy to nutritional deficiencies, cancers, substance abuse, and self-harm, life-threatening disorders are more prevalent in distressed corners of the country. Compared to prosperous counties, cancer deaths are 27% higher and neonatal mortality 86% higher in distressed counties.  Mortality rates from mental and substance abuse disorders are 64% higher, and deaths from self-harm and interpersonal violence are 52% higher in distressed counties.
  • The federal safety net supports struggling places as well as struggling people. Distressed ZIP codes are home to over 30 million fewer people than prosperous zip codes overall, but they contain three times as many people receiving SNAP (food stamps) and other cash public assistance benefits. Twice as much Medicaid spending per capita flows to distressed counties as to prosperous ones.
  • Race and ethnicity remain strong predictors of one’s economic well-being in the United States. Asians and whites are more likely to live in prosperous ZIP codes than any other type, while blacks and Native Americans are most likely to live in distressed ones. ZIP codes in which minority groups constitute a majority of the population are two times more likely to be distressed than the average ZIP code.
  • Economically distressed communities are a bipartisan challenge. Democrats and Republicans each represent millions of Americans living in distressed ZIP codes at all levels of government. In the U.S. House of Representatives, Republicans disproportionately represent the nation’s most prosperous congressional districts. Republicans represent 63% of the country’s prosperous districts compared to Democrats’ 37%.

View the full report and additional assets at eig.org/DCI.

Source: Economic Innovation Group Distressed Communities Index, 2017.

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.