CINCINNATI, Ohio—It’s one of the most economically diverse cities in the country.
The Cincinnati International Airport, the city’s main hub, is home to a number of high-tech companies.
And Cincinnati’s median income is just above the national average.
But despite these accomplishments, Cincinnati is a city that still struggles with economic inequality.
The median household income for people making $50,000 a year or less in the city is $27,093.
That’s below the national median of $31,852.
While it’s true that Cincinnati is home-schools more students than the national rate, that disparity is more pronounced among minority groups, which tend to live in neighborhoods with a high concentration of low-income residents.
And while the city has a robust manufacturing sector, the median income of those workers is below the average in the nation.
“If you think about it, if you’re poor, the way you get to the middle class is by working in a factory, and you’re not going to be able to afford that, then you’re stuck in that middle class,” said Robert Bauers, director of the Brookings Institution’s Center for Neighborhood Enterprise and Research.
That means the city could be a magnet for workers who are less fortunate.
Bauer, who spent two decades working at the University of Cincinnati, has a long history with the city.
His first job was as an assistant in the department of computer science at the university, before moving to the city to work for the city government in 1979.
Baus says the city was an ideal place to build up a manufacturing industry.
“There were plenty of opportunities for manufacturing, and a lot of them had to do with transportation, like railroads, and the like,” he said.
“So the idea was, let’s build up manufacturing here and have a large presence in the industry, so it can be competitive.”
Baures said it was a hard sell.
“We had some really big companies leave the city because they didn’t feel comfortable with what was going on in the business community, the labor market,” he recalled.
“And that was a big problem, because that was one of those places where we could do business and bring a lot more people into the city, and I don’t think that they would have left.”
The state has been the primary source of federal aid for Cincinnati.
Since the 1970s, federal stimulus money has funded a number the city of Cincinnati has received, including new rail lines, an expanded airport, a new train station, and even a new city hall.
The city’s unemployment rate in 2014 was 5.6 percent, which is far lower than the state average of 10.4 percent.
But Baurs and other economists have questioned the federal role in the region’s economic boom, particularly as it relates to infrastructure projects.
“It’s not about the money, it’s about the ability to do things,” Baubers said.
In fact, a recent report from the Brookings Institute found that in Cincinnati, state and local governments were responsible for nearly 80 percent of the federal stimulus funding over the last decade.
In other words, the state of Ohio and the federal government both spent millions of dollars on infrastructure projects in the Cincinnati region, with the federal funds going to private companies rather than public entities.
While Cincinnati’s unemployment rates are far lower today than they were in 2014, the economic recovery is not yet over.
Baeres is hopeful that the city can make some changes to address the issues that are holding it back.
“This is not about money, this is about doing the right thing for the future, and for the people in this city,” he explained.
“The problem we have is that there are some communities that have the most in place, and they’re not necessarily in the best shape, and it’s not easy to rebuild those communities.”
Baers believes the city should focus on the infrastructure needs that it needs to make sure that the region has the capacity to thrive.
“Right now, the problem is the lack of infrastructure,” he added.
“That’s what’s keeping us from reaching our full potential, and what’s holding us back from reaching that full potential.”