Here are two questions that Toledo’s mayoral candidates, including the incumbent, could usefully address — but more likely will ignore:
Why does Toledo have one of the highest rates of child poverty among America’s largest cities? And what can, and should, the city’s next mayor do to alleviate this dreadful condition?
A new study by the National Center for Children in Poverty at Columbia University uses Census data to rank the child poverty rates of U.S. cities with populations of more than 250,000. Toledo is seventh worst; its rate is 43.7 percent.
Stated more bluntly: Nearly half of this city’s youngest citizens — the future of this community — are poor. Living in poverty harms children’s health and performance in school, limiting their opportunities for the rest of their lives.
Toledoans can take whatever solace they can find in the fact that child poverty rates are even worse in Detroit (a tragic 57.3 percent), Cleveland (53.9 percent), and Cincinnati (45.3 percent). Columbus (33.4 percent) is not far behind. But however the numbers line up, they are, as an executive of the research center concludes, “a national disgrace.”
The Toledo findings align with those of the annual Kids Count report (see the next editorial) compiled by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. Although that study is based on state-by-state rather than local data, it affirms that child poverty across Ohio exceeds the national rate, and has gotten considerably worse since 2005.
The question recurs: Do the men and women who want to run Toledo’s municipal government know how many of this city’s children, and their families, lack any semblance of economic security? Do they care? If so, how do they propose to use the power and authority of the mayor’s office to help these households?
Maybe there isn’t a lot that the mayor of Toledo can do. He or she can’t force an irresponsible, callous General Assembly to expand Ohio’s Medicaid program of health insurance to more working-poor families, including children, in Toledo and across the state.
The mayor can’t command a Congress that languishes in perpetual partisan deadlock to pass a farm bill that allocates enough money for food stamps, school lunches, and child and infant nutrition programs to help keep kids from going hungry. He or she can’t compel lawmakers to enact President Obama’s proposal for “promise zones” that would invest more resources in schools, housing, and economic development in impoverished urban neighborhoods.
But above all, researchers at the child poverty center link the “pandemic” poverty rates in Toledo and other big cities in the Rust Belt and Sun Belt to persistently high unemployment, years after the supposed end of the Great Recession. Toledo needs jobs — many more good jobs that would enable the people who hold them to support families adequately.
Toledo’s mayoral contenders talk about how they’re all for job creation in the city. And that’s all they’ve done: talk.
We have yet to see any mayoral candidate, including incumbent Mike Bell, propose a detailed, comprehensive action agenda for job creation for the next four years that would emerge from One Government Center. It’s hard to imagine an issue of greater importance to Toledo voters.
Instead, the candidates bicker over trivia, or call each other names, or follow the apparent orders of their handlers not to say anything substantive. Which raises a final question: What difference does it make to struggling Toledoans who the mayor is? Perhaps the candidates could at least discuss that.