By Kalea Hall
Youngstown is the most distressed among small and midsized cities in the United States, according to a new report.
The Distressed Communities Index recently released by the Economic Innovation Group, a Washington-based public policy organization focused on domestic economic issues, gave Youngstown a distress score of 99.9 with 93.5 percent of its population living in distressed ZIP codes.
Communities with scores higher than 80 are distressed; communities with scores that fall between 60 to 80 are at risk; communities with scores between 40 to 60 are midtier; communities with scores between 20 to 40 are comfortable; and communities with scores below 20 are prosperous.
The report combines seven metrics to study a community’s economic well-being: no high school diploma for 25-and-over adults; housing vacancy rate; adults age 25 to 64 not working; poverty rate; median income ratio; change in employment; and change in business establishments.
The report uses data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey Five-Year Estimates for 2011-2015 and Business Patterns data from 2011 and 2015.
Trenton, N.J.; Camden, N.J.; Gary, Ind.; Hartford, Conn.; Flint, Mich.; Albany, Ga.; Hemet, Calif.; Saginaw, Mich., and Springfield, Mass., follow Youngstown as the most-distressed small and midsized cities.
“These are cites we get compared to on a consistent basis,” Youngstown Mayor John A. McNally said. “They are the same cities that keep popping up every time you have a report like this. One of the most disturbing things is the degree to which these cities are being left behind while other communities grow.”
The report found that 8 of the 10 most-distressed small and midsized cities lost population from 2011 to 2015.
The challenges Youngs-town faces are in the loss of population, the education system and its crime levels.
“The education system has to improve,” McNally said.
The mayor pointed out a positive in that the Youngstown City School District has about 4 percent more students during the third week of school this year compared with last year.
District CEO Krish Mohip said the increase indicated people are beginning to believe in the city schools again, as The Vindicator reported this week.
“You have to have [some] level of education,” McNally said. “If you don’t want to go to college, you have to have a plan. You have to get in a trade. If you are uneducated, you are going to be lost.”
Lack of education impacts the economy of a community, explained Mekael Teshome, PNC economist.
“There are only so many jobs you can create for people who don’t have a diploma,” Teshome said. “It does create a problem because firms want a skilled workforce.”
Teshome was a bit surprised by the report’s level of distress for Youngstown.
“We are still trying to find our footing,” Teshome said. “The last couple of years the country has continued to grow, but employment in Youngstown has actually fallen back.”
Cleveland-based economist George Zeller also was surprised about how negative the report was for Youngstown.
“We are recovering but too slowly,” Zeller said. “Since then [the census bureau’s data came out], things have gotten worse. This is not just a short-term problem. It’s a long-term problem.”
Two main factors, Zeller said, have led to the slow recovery: a loss of manufacturing and a loss of government jobs.
“When you cut government, it slows things down,” he said. “The question is how do we get out of it. We have to keep building up the manufacturing base.”
Overall, the report found: 1 in 6 Americans (52.3 million people) lives in an economically distressed ZIP code; prosperous ZIP codes are home to 84.8 million people; and in the average state, 15 percent of the population live in a distressed community, while more than 26 percent live in a prosperous one.
Mahoning County isn’t distressed, but it’s at risk.
Some of its cities and townships have positive scores.
The Boardman ZIP code 44512 received a score of 46.3. The Canfield ZIP code 44406 received a score of 4.8. The Austintown ZIP code 44515 received a score of 61.5.
The index shows the county scored a 66.6.
In Mahoning County, where the population is 234,550, 10.6 percent of the population lack a high school diploma; the housing vacancy rate is 11.6 percent; 32.2 percent of adults age 25 to 64 do not have a job; and the poverty rate is 18 percent.
Trumbull County received a distress score of 63.6, which means the county is at risk.
In a population of 206,370, 11.5 percent of adults 25 and older don’t have a high school diploma in Trumbull County, and 32.2 percent of adults 25-64 don’t have a job. The housing vacancy rate in the county is 8.7 percent, and the poverty rate is 17.3 percent.
Columbiana County received a distress score of 49.4, which means the county is midtier. In a population of 105,990, 12.9 percent of adults 25 and older do not have a high school diploma in Columbiana County, and 32.7 percent adults are not working. The housing vacancy rate is 8.9 percent, and the poverty rate is 15.4 percent.
The Distressed Communities index can be found at: http://eig.org/2017-dci-reports.