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Youngstown continues to shed people



Published: Sun, June 9, 2013 @ 12:00 a.m.

By Bertram de Souza (Contact)


The city of Youngstown’s unenviable No. 1 national ranking for population loss does not tell the whole story about the decline of the largest community in the Mahoning Valley.

To be sure, the highest percent of population loss among the 729 communities with at least 50,000 residents confirms what this writer and others have long believed about Youngstown: The future is bleak.

But, until the U.S. Census Bureau’s recent revelation that the number of residents in the city now stands at 65,405, down from 66,982 in the 2010 census, it wasn’t clear just how dire the situation has become.

You need to look beyond the Census numbers to understand what lies ahead for Youngstown.

First, the population. A demographic analysis will show that a large percentage of the 65,000-plus residents are on fixed incomes — pensions, Social Security benefits or welfare.

In other words, the income tax revenue the city receives from its 2.75 percent rate is mostly paid by nonresidents working in Youngstown.

Next, the racial makeup of the city. As the number of blacks living in Youngstown begins to outpace whites, the flight to the suburbs by those who can afford to leave is exacerbated.

This phenomenon is evident throughout urban America, but has received a great deal of attention lately with the city of Detroit’s bankruptcy.

OUR DETROIT CONNECTION

Here’s how the New York Times described what has taken place in the Motor City:

“In the eyes of some, the signs of a private sector turnaround have only served to accentuate divisions: a mostly black city with an influx of young, sometimes white artists and entrepreneurs; a revived downtown but hollowed-out neighborhoods beyond; an upbeat mood among business leaders even as the city’s frustrated elected officials face diminished, uncertain roles under state supervision.”

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder has used his statutory authority to effectuate a state takeover of the city’s finances by appointing an emergency manager.

Keyvn Orr’s initial review of Detroit’s finances shows that the city has an estimated $15 billion to $17 billion in long-term debt. Orr is evaluating all the public assets to decide whether a major sell-off will be necessary.

“We’re looking at every function and every asset of the city to see how it provides value to the citizens of Detroit and asking the question, is there a better operational model that will allow it to provide more value through less cost or more revenue?” a spokesman for Orr explained.

Youngstown is becoming a smaller version of Detroit. A study of city government’s operations projects a $25 million revenue shortfall over the next five years.

Crime remains an intractable problem in the black population, as does a high unemployment rate among young black males. That’s a toxic combination in a community that does not have a large, vibrant private-sector middle class.

Then there’s the issue of the neighborhoods, where once stable areas of the city are now succumbing to blight.

Mayor Charles Sammarone, who took over the reins of the city after his predecessor, Jay Williams, left to join the Obama administration, is refreshingly honest about what’s going on.

“People can’t believe how bad the neighborhoods are. I’ve been pushing demolitions and code enforcement. If we don’t continue to do those, the population will continue to drop. People don’t like the condition of the neighborhoods, and the city didn’t respond fast enough.”

Return home?

Sammarone is right that blight triggers flight. But will revitalizing the neighborhoods prompt those residents who have left for the suburbs to return, or persuade suburbanites who pay lip service to the city to leave the comfort and safety of their communities to move into Youngstown?

Of course not.

It’s not just a matter of perception. There is the reality that couples with children aren’t willing to experience a brave new world that is urban America.

For many suburbanites, Youngstown is a place to work and to enjoy a night out. It is not a place to live.

Can a city survive without a growing population base? And if today’s 65,405 residents reflects a continuing downward trend, what lies ahead?

The next mayor — Sammarone chose not to run for a full term this year — will have to confront this issue head on.


Comments

1ytownsteelman(628 comments)posted 1 year, 3 months ago

Government really has created this problem by largely providing those fixed incomes and creating an atmosphere where striving beyond those meager payments is punished. So we have a city full of people who do not have to work for a living, have little pride in themselves and their surroundings, participate heavily in the back market economy and do not "pay their fair share" of taxes to the city government. In effect the Federal government has killed the American City.

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2NoBS(1939 comments)posted 1 year, 3 months ago

With housing prices still down, and not getting any better in the Mahoning Valley, people feel "trapped" - they can't afford to take a loss on their house, so they don't sell. But the longer they stay, the lower housing in the area goes.

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3Alexinytown(246 comments)posted 1 year, 3 months ago

Actually a decent column Bertram.

I don't think anyone can expect miracles tomorrow or next week when looking at Youngstown unless you are looking more long term. None of the issues mentioned are a quick fix, and that is a fair point. Yes, blight is a problem, crime is a problem, the schools are a problem, and the income tax is not doing anyone any favors at 2.75 percent. I think most people already know this.

The reality that downtown has become viable is impressive on its own in spite of those problems, and a lot of people have done a lot of hard work to help that along. There is a fair amount of suburban money coming into the city on the weekends, and that is a really good start.

For a couple looking at moving to the city, it comes down to schools, safety, and taxes. So in 2013 the benefits of moving to Youngstown may not exceed the costs. In 5-10 years, it could be a very different picture. The new mayor has a lot to address, but these issues will not be solved overnight.

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4kurtw(864 comments)posted 1 year, 3 months ago

Why is Youngstown shrinking? There are three answers: Schools, Schools, and Schools.

Why would a young family planning to raise a family go, or stay, in a city with a school system (permanently, it seems) stuck in Academic Emergency?

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5DwightK(1256 comments)posted 1 year, 3 months ago

Why wouldn't the population in the city decrease? Crime rates are higher than in surrounding communities, if you have a decent job the tax bite is enormous, the schools are some of the worst in the state and blight is common. Who would want to raise children in this environment when you can move to a surrounding township that has no income tax and excellent schools?

I like what the city could be but people with families are making the right choice in leaving if they can.

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6TERRAPINST(302 comments)posted 1 year, 3 months ago

Excellent article and I never, ever say that. Your boy Berger pushing for garbage but I say BEAUTY to the objective journalism.

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7UticaShale(854 comments)posted 1 year, 3 months ago

Lanacek, where is there abundant cheap land in Youngstown that the City is not hoarding disquised as their land reutilization holdings without generating taxes?

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8kurtw(864 comments)posted 1 year, 3 months ago

There's plenty of cheap land in Y-Town (Youngstown has a land bank: you can buy a lot for 81 Bucks), but it doesn't do you any good if you have to be afraid to go or stay there. The bottom line is the perception of Y-town is a town run by corrupt politicians and street thugs- land may be cheap- but it ain't cheap- the cost of a funeral these days- if you get yourself shot for it.

(Also, the horrible, horrible, horrible school system- only a parent who hated his kids would choose to send them into that jungle. I'd like to know about the City Big Wigs- the Mayor and all the rest of them: where do their kids and grand kids go to school- in Youngstown or somewhere else? Maybe they follow Barack's and Michelle's example- who send theirs to the toney and pricey Sidwell Academy while mouthing platitudes about the importance of "public education". You can't really grow a city without a good school system)

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