Columbus Dispatch, August 8, 2008: If new jobs aren’t where poor are, poverty persists

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Friday, August 8, 2008 3:12 AM

By Mark Ferenchik


It would seem logical: As a big metropolitan area creates jobs, the poverty rate should go down.

But two researchers, including one from Ohio State University, found that it’s more difficult to reduce poverty through job growth in bigger metropolitan areas than in smaller ones.

They found that a 10 percent increase in job growth lowered the poverty rate 50 percent more in metro areas under 350,000 population than it did in metro areas above 1.5 million population. Central Ohio has 1.7 million people.

A closer look led the researchers to conclude that new jobs don’t help poor people unless the jobs come to their neighborhoods or policymakers figure out better ways to get them to distant jobs.

“Job growth can reduce poverty in a place like Columbus — if we can get job growth near where poverty is,” said Mark Partridge, an OSU professor and one of the authors of the recently published study.

For instance, jobs that are created in Delaware County are not a boon for residents of Columbus neighborhoods who don’t have cars or bus service to get there.

High gasoline prices are another reason to create jobs near poor residents and to create a decent public-transportation system, said Bill LaFayette, vice president for economic analysis for the Columbus Chamber.

Partridge said those who live in central-city neighborhoods also might have a difficult time finding out about jobs on the outskirts through word of mouth, because they don’t have friends or relatives there.

Partridge, a professor of agriculture, environmental and developmental economics, wrote the report with Oklahoma State University economist Dan Rickman. They studied more than 300 metropolitan areas to determine why poverty rates stayed the same in many large cities despite job growth over 30 years.

“What startled us was that (large) metro areas create more jobs but there was hardly any decline in poverty,” Partridge said. “How can this be? How can job growth not raise all boats?”

Ohio has shed hundreds of thousands of jobs since the beginning of the decade. Forbes magazine reported just this week that Canton, Cleveland, Dayton and Youngstown are four of America’s fastest-dying cities based on population loss and bad local economies.

Partridge said smaller metro areas such as Akron and Canton would be better able to reduce poverty with across-the-board job growth — if they could create jobs.

He suggested that larger cities aim tax breaks at specific areas of town, rather than tailoring them to specific companies.

Companies asking for property-tax breaks in Columbus must agree to a goal of hiring 50 percent of their new workers from the city, but those jobs don’t have to come from low-income areas, city Economic Development Administrator Bill Webster said.

“Our goal is to get Columbus citizens access to these jobs,” he said. That includes the old Techneglas site on the South Side, which the city is pushing for redevelopment as an industrial site with 1,200 jobs, he said.

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