- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 5, 2004

Nearly 75 percent of the nation’s largest cities experienced a drop in urban hardship — a measure of factors such as poverty levels, unemployment, and crowded housing — between 1970 and 2000, according to a report released today by the Nelson A. Rockefeller Institute of Government.

A long-term study of 55 cities determined that more than 36 percent had “improved” on hardship levels over the three decades, and more than 38 percent had “strongly improved.” Those in the latter category had a 20 percent or greater reduction in an index known as the “hardship score” during the period, researchers said. The worst hardship score is 100.

The data showed that only 18 percent of cities, or fewer than one in five, either “declined” or “strongly declined” in signs of economic prosperity during the three-decade-long study period. Those cities ended up having an increase in hardship scores of four percentage points or greater.

To determine each city’s hardship score, researchers considered six factors compared to a national standard:

• Unemployment (the percentage of unemployed population over age 16).

• Dependency (the percentage of the population under age 18 or over 64).

• Education (percentage of the population of those over age 25 with less than a high school diploma).

• Income level (per capita).

• Poverty (percentage of people living below the federal poverty level).

• Housing (percentage of occupied housing units with more than one person per room)

“We often see images of extensive urban hardship in the media, leading us to believe that high levels of poverty and adversity are the norm, but that’s not the case,” said Richard P. Nathan, director of the institute, which is the public policy arm of the State University of New York.

Virginia Beach, with a hardship index score of 15.3, was the third lowest in the country in 2000, following Seattle (9.2) and Raleigh, N.C. (10.9). Three of the 10 cities with the lowest hardship rankings were in North Carolina. Others low on the list were Austin, Texas; Little Rock; Ark.; Charlotte, N.C.; Greensboro, N.C.; Columbus, Ohio; Arlington, Texas; and Omaha, Neb.

Baltimore fared well in the long-term study. In 1970, it was ranked No. 6 on the list of 10 cities with the highest hardship rankings. But in 2000, following the Inner Harbor redevelopment and other reforms, the city’s hardship ranking was 17th. It placed ninth on a list of the 10 cities where hardship rankings had most improved in the past 30 years of the previous century.

The cities with the 10 highest levels of urban hardship in 2000 were: Santa Ana, Calif. (73.7); Miami (71.6); Hartford, Conn. (67.1); Newark, N.J. (66.6); Gary, Ind. (59.4); Detroit (56.6); Cleveland (55.8); Fresno, Calif. (54.4); Los Angeles (51); and Buffalo, N.Y. (50.1).

The report points out that Miami, Newark, Gary, Detroit, and Cleveland have ranked among the highest hardship cities for 30 years.

Hardship data are not available for the District for 1970, said Lisa Montiel, a research scientist at the Rockefeller Institute and an author of the study. But she said the city’s ranking slipped slightly from 46th in 1990 to 42nd in 2000.

“D.C. worsened in the categories of dependency and unemployment, but improved in the other four: poverty, income levels, education and housing,” Ms. Montiel added.

The researcher noted that Richmond’s hardship ranking moved up from 27th in 1970 to 34th in 2000.

“Richmond improved in poverty and education, but worsened in unemployment and income levels,” she said.

The report describes Seattle, Greensboro, and Columbus as “stalwarts on the list of lowest hardship cities” since 1970. It also cited the achievements of Omaha, which had a good showing in 1970 and “improved to a position that was better than all but nine out of 86 cities in 2000.”

“Typically, the cities with lowest hardship benefited from having elastic city boundaries, an ability to capture a moderate share of metropolitan-area population, comparatively high levels of newer housing, and less intense pressures from high rates of racial segregation, poverty, limited education and unemployment than other cities,” the report says.

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