Echoing then presidential candidate Ronald Reagan, people today are asking "Are we better off now than we were four years ago?" On September 18, 2012, The Sound of Ideas on WCPN Ideastream discussed that question with its listeners and expert guests, including Dr. Claudia Coulton, Co-Director of the Center on Urban Poverty and Community Development.
Dr. Coulton feels the issue is complex, especially when considering that the poverty rates have been trending upward for most of the past twenty-five years, not just the past four; she cites 1999 as the last time the state's poverty rate could be considered low. Also, it is important to acknowledge that different metrics are important to different groups of people and no simple and short answer can exist for everyone. She believes the real issues are often overshadowed by the "sound-bites" being used in the campaigns and media and that the public is frustrated that novel ideas are not getting proper exposure and consideration.
According to Coulton, one indication that the economic environment is worse than four years is ago is that the median household income has declined (5.7% since a year earlier), meaning that new jobs created in the state are paying lower wages than those lost. However, one positive sign she sees is that fewer young adults are lacking medical insurance and studies show being insured can have a positive psychological impact.
The Poverty Center had been watching the foreclosure crisis years before it reached national attention. Dr. Coulton discussed how the local foreclosure crisis peaked as early as 2004, well before the Obama administration, and yet will still take many years before it's fully resolved. She believes that part of the problem came from questionable home mortgage loan contracts due to deregulation of the industry.
Also read Dr. Coulton's recent comments on the poverty rates in the Cleveland Plain Dealer.
The Center on Urban Poverty and Community Development is a research center at the Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences, a graduate school of social work at Case Western Reserve University.