The 17th Congressional District received more federal money than 13 other congressional districts.
That's putting about as happy a face on the plight of the Mahoning Valley as is possible. It sounds much better to say that the area received more than 13 others than to say it received less than 421.
But by playing with the numbers in that way, we only kid ourselves. The story of dollars and cents compiled by the Associated Press shows that Mahoning Valley taxpayers have been getting shortchanged by Washington, D.C. It's been going on for a long time, and it's been getting worse since 1995.
The figures tend to belie the claims by our expelled congressman, James A Traficant Jr., that he was an effective advocate for the Mahoning Valley. But there is little point in pointing fingers at a former congressman who is now living in a central Pennsylvania prison.
What the figures do show is a need for those who aspire to replace Traficant to tell the voters of the new 17th District what they intend to do to reverse this trend of returning less and less to the taxpayers of the Mahoning Valley.
In truth, there are limits to what any candidate could do, and so idle promises aren't welcome.
The money is shifting the way of national demographics, to the South and West. And it is shifting in the direction of the party that appropriates, which, since the 104th Congress convened in 1995, has been the Republican Party.
By the numbers
The Associated Press figures show that Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana counties -- the present 17th District -- received about $2.4 billion in federal funds in 2001, which placed it 422nd out of the 435 congressional districts nationwide in terms of the amount of federal money received. In Ohio, only the 16th District, which is represented by Ralph Regula, a Canton Republican, ranked lower, at 430th, which apparently shows that party affiliation isn't everything.
Even back in 1995, as the leadership in the House was changing, the 17th District wasn't doing all that well, coming in 410th out of the 435 districts.
The numbers tell another story, too. About two-thirds of the comparatively small slice of the federal pie that the area is getting is coming to its citizens through Social Security ($911 million) and Medicare ($731 million). If it weren't for the area's aging population, the 17th District could slip to 435th.
But the fact that two-thirds of the federal money received in this area comes from those two sources only highlights how little is left over for education at all levels and economic development.
Unless more money in those vital areas finds its way to the Mahoning Valley, rich congressional districts are going to continue to get richer, and the poor will get poorer.