Study: Hamilton County Will Be Majority-Minority by 2040, but Has a Big Equity Problem

A new study released by national think tank PolicyLink found a number of alarming economic barriers minority residents of Hamilton County face — and suggests those disparities have a big price tag

Oct 18, 2018 at 12:49 pm

click to enlarge Cincinnati - Nick Swartsell
Nick Swartsell

A new study by a national think tank shows that Hamilton County will be majority-minority by 2040 — four years before the nation as a whole is expected to reach that tipping point.

But despite the rapid growth in the number of people of color in the county, big economic disparities remain between white residents and people of color, the research suggests — disparities that cost the region $9.9 billion in 2014 alone.

The report, completed by national research group PolicyLink and the University of Southern California’s Program for Environmental and Regional Equity, was commissioned by the All-In Cincinnati Equity Coalition, a group comprised of representatives from the AMOS Project, the Child Poverty Collaborative, the Black United Front, Cincinnati Union Cooperative Initiative, the City of Cincinnati Human Relations Commission, the City of Cincinnati Economic Inclusion Department, the City of Cincinnati Health Department and a number of other groups.

All-In Cincinnati is funded by the Greater Cincinnati Fund, United Way and Interact for Health. The group will hold a panel discussion Oct. 19 featuring elected officials, community leaders and PolicyLink President Michael McAfee as it launches what the group calls a "long-term equity strategy" for Hamilton County to address the findings of the report.

“An equitable Hamilton County is a strong Hamilton County,” Greater Cincinnati Foundation President and CEO Ellen Katz said in a statement about the report today. “To ensure a vibrant, flourishing economy, all members of our community must achieve their full potential. We, as a region, are at our best when each and every resident is a healthy, contributing member of society.”

CityBeat did a deep dive on the link between racial and economic disparities — and some of the root causes of those inequities — in our 2015 cover story "That Which Divides Us."

Among the findings of that story: Of the city’s 10 neighborhoods with the lowest median household incomes, nine are more than 70-percent black. Each of these neighborhoods has a median household income around half, or less, than the city’s median of about $34,000 a year. In these places, life expectancies are five to 10 years lower than the city as a whole. Meanwhile, the 10 wealthiest Cincinnati neighborhoods by median household income are majority white and have median household incomes between $48,000 and $115,000 a year.

The findings of PolicyLink's study, which uses Census data, data from the National Equity Atlas and other sources, are stark: middle-class and upper-income households declined between 1979 and 2014 while low-income households went from 30 percent to 39 percent of the population.

The economic losses aren't spread equally. In 2014, black residents of Hamilton County were almost three times as likely to be unemployed as white residents. While educational opportunities are part of that equation, the report found that they aren’t the whole picture: black county residents with a bachelor’s degree or higher are still twice as likely to be unemployed as white residents, and when black college graduates are employed, they earn $6 less an hour — $23 — than their white counterparts.  

The study found that economic disparities impact women of color the most. According to the research, 18 percent of Latinas and 17.6 percent of black women in Hamilton County in 2014 were “working poor:” that is, working full-time for income that is less than 200 percent of the federal poverty guidelines. Just 5.4 percent of white women fell into that category.

People of color, especially immigrants and African-Americans, also lag in terms of educational opportunities and access to affordable housing — though here, the difference between being an immigrant vs. U.S.-born Latino is large. About 61 percent of black renters in Hamilton County lived in “cost burdened” households in 2014 — that is, households that pay more than 30 percent of their income for rent. About 45 percent of white households were cost burdened that year, the report says. Roughly 39 percent of black homeowners were cost-burdened in Hamilton County in 2014 compared to just 23 percent of white homeowners.

The Ohio Housing Finance Agency estimates that 30,000 more units of housing affordable to low-income people are needed in Cincinnati. That shortage — and the racial disparities within it — have other implications.

“Limited access to safe and affordable housing options forces many residents to move further away from high-opportunity neighborhoods and commute to work,” the study’s author, PolicyLink Senior Associate James Crowder, Jr. writes. “As one elected Hamilton County official interviewed for this analysis noted, job centers have shifted away from downtown Cincinnati and the public transit system hasn’t reacted to that reality.”

The research shows the cascading effect economic and racial inequality have on Hamilton County residents: lower wages affect where a resident can live, which in turn affects exposure to environmental hazards (the average black resident of Hamilton County has more exposure to pollutants than residents of 83 percent of the nation’s Census tracts, the report says), access to jobs and reliance on a transit system that doesn’t reach 75,000 of the region’s jobs.

According to the report, 16 percent of black workers who earn less than $15,000 per year rely on public transit, compared to 4 percent of white workers at that income level.

All of that translates into economic loss for the region as a whole, the report posits. The Cincinnati metro area's $68.3 billion 2014 GDP would have been $78.2 billion — almost $10 billion higher — without the disparities.

“Hamilton County’s rising inequity and racial gaps not only hinder communities of color — they impede the whole region’s economic growth and prosperity,” Crowder writes. “According to our analysis, if there were no racial disparities in income, GDP would have been $9.9 billion higher in 2014. Unless racial gaps are closed, the costs of inequity will grow as Hamilton County becomes more diverse.”

The research concludes with policy proposals for infrastructure, business ownership, institutional power, education, employment, housing, the justice system and other areas to help address the disparities it discusses. Those include:

• Ensure public investments in community infrastructure such as roads, transit, sewers, and construction projects create training and job opportunities for the underemployed and unemployed, with emphasis on women of color

• Support the expansion of businesses owned by people of color, especially women of color

• Leverage the economic power of large anchor institutions, such as hospitals and universities, for equitable community economic development

• Increase the availability of apprenticeships, career academies, and other education and training supports

• Raise the floor on low-wage jobs

• Eliminate overly harsh “zero-tolerance” school discipline policies

• Strengthen the K-12 public school system

• Identify and support the creation of new sources of municipal funding for affordable housing maintenance and development.

You can read more recommendations and details in the report here.