1 out of 4 in Kent live in poverty

Sean Joseph

According to newly released data about the city of Kent, one out of four people living in the city are below the poverty level.

This data is taken from the 2000 census, the International City Managers Association, the State of Ohio Auditor’s Office and city staff and compiled into City Manager Dave Ruller’s Benchmark Project.

The project was proposed by William Schultz, councilman-at-large, and approved by council to analyze the city’s financial challenges and look for trends.

The project benchmarked Kent against selected Ohio peer cities in two categories: Cities in the region with a comparable population and other cities in the state with universities.

Regional cities included Aurora, Cuyahoga Falls, Hudson, Ravenna, Stow, Streetsboro and Tallmadge.

University cities included Athens (Ohio University), Alliance (Mount Union), Bowling Green (Bowling Green State University), Oxford (Miami of Ohio), Wooster (Wooster College) and Akron (Akron University).

Ruller’s data indicated that 15.4 percent of Kent families are in poverty. This is higher than other peer cities.

Kent is followed closely by other campus communities such as Athens (14.8 percent), Akron (14 percent) and Oxford (13.4) percent.

Kent is fourth with 25.2 percent of individuals below poverty, behind Athens, where 51.9 percent are below poverty, Oxford and Bowling Green.

These statistics are being presented to city council and the Blue Ribbon Panel, which is a group of “financially minded” citizens of Kent.

The data will continue to be shared over the next several months, and then the panel will decide if the city’s cuts should be made in city staff or services to make things financially efficient.

Ruller invited people to join the panel who had experience with finances. He invited Joyce Harris of Wachovia Securities because she is an investment adviser. Harris said it is too early to tell if there are any red flags in the data.

Ward 1 Councilman Garret Ferrara said he is not alarmed about the poverty rate in this city because he does not know how accurate the data is.

“At first glance you see poverty and income levels that are alarming,” Ferrara said. “But you have to ask how many students are in the census data who are also supported by their parents. If there were a lot, the numbers are skewed.”

Schultz said he has been aware of the poverty rate in Kent for a long time. He said it is obvious that Kent rates high among its peers in poverty because of the student population. He said the city has dealt with it for a long time, and he doesn’t know if there is really anything council can do.

Ruller said it is premature to draw any conclusions from this data, and there are no short-term problems the city will address. But the project was put together to look at the big picture.

“This is a ‘let me see’ exercise,” Ruller said. “The Benchmark Project is a standard practice that good organizations do routinely. We compare ourselves to our peers just like a company would compare competitors. It’s a common practice in the private sector that we are doing in the public sector.”

Ruller said the data he has seen has helped him learn about Kent because he has only been here since June, but that nothing has surprised him that much.

The next step is to take action, but council and the Blue Ribbon Panel must see everything first. Until then it is just a pile of statistics, and will be for several months, Ferrara said.

“I wonder at the end of the day what will come out of this,” Ferrara said. “We have to take action. If not, then we’ve educated eight people on the panel about Kent’s financial situation, and that does nothing. I would like to see something tangible come out of this.”

Contact public affairs reporter Sean Joseph at [email protected]