Connecting Cincinnati With What’s Happening ‘Inside The Beltway’

The dome of the United States Capitol, one of the most recognizable landmarks in our nation’s capital, is currently under construction. Scaffolding is draped against it, as the Capitol Dome is in the process of being restored. Many would argue that the scene of construction is an apt metaphor for what is happening in Congress today.

By many accounts, the Congress is broken—plagued by soaring partisanship, ineffective leadership, and near historically low levels of public approval. Despite all these things, the federal government is as important as ever to the well-being of states and municipalities.

Aside from the billions of dollars that make their way from the federal government’s coffers to localities each and every year, how does the federal government truly matter to the lives of people in Cincinnati? Washington is so far removed both physically and culturally from most of the country that many people feel both disconnected from and discouraged by the political process that they see as out of their control.

Many argue that the government that governs closest governs best, but that is not always the case, particularly when it comes to truly monumental issues. Besides the lack of fiscal capacity, states and municipalities are often strategically disincentivized to handle these issues alone.

This might include something like the replacement of the Brent Spence Bridge, which has stakeholders in Kentucky and Ohio in a tizzy over how to reach a solution to fortify one of the Cincinnati regional economy’s most important assets. It might also include issues that seem far away, like climate change. In this case, no one individual actor has the appropriate role or responsibility to deal with problems of such a large magnitude.

From many people we are one. And there may not be a better time than now to be reminded that what happens in the city along the Anacostia and Potomac Rivers has the potential to have a large effect on what goes on in a city along the banks of the Ohio River. Our government is a federalist system with power devolving from the top, and where even the smallest of decisions can have large and far-reaching implications.

Bruce Katz of Washington’s Brookings Institution, one of the city’s most venerable think tanks, has said on many occasions that “the cavalry (the federal government) is not coming…we (state and local governments) are on our own.” While I agree with his sentiment that there is much more that the federal government could be doing to help improve cities and regions.

In future writings I hope to illuminate some of the implications, both big and small, of federal action to show the power of decisions that happen in Washington matter for the places we call home. In addition, I hope to provide more of a data-informed perspective to the issues of the day in Cincinnati, and use this space as a platform to elevate the discussion around the importance of community-level data to better understand our regions, cities and neighborhoods.

EDITORIAL NOTE: Ben Robinson is a Cincinnati native that currently lives in Washington, DC, where he does not work for the federal government. He currently works as a data analyst for the Washington DC School System. As our new Washington correspondent, Ben will be covering topics from Capitol Hill for UrbanCincy as they relate to local issues and projects.

Ben is a graduate of Walnut Hills High School, and holds a BA in economics and urban studies from the University of Pittsburgh, and a master’s degree in public policy from the University of Southern California. In addition to Cincinnati and Washington DC, Ben has also lived in Los Angeles and Pittsburgh.

Cincinnati Fares Poorly When Examining Centralization of Jobs Throughout Region

A December 2014 Salon article, using statistics from an April, 2013 Brookings Institute report shed light on an increasingly-present paradox in the American economy – America’s next generation of workers prefers urban living, but jobs tend to be decentralized and located far from most region’s urban center.

The report found that from 2000 to 2007 the share of jobs located within two miles of a major urban area’s central business district declined 2%; and that by 2010, a nationwide average of 43% of jobs were located at least 10 miles from the CBD. Only 24% of jobs, meanwhile, were located within two miles of most regions’ primary downtown.

The pattern is more acute in Cincinnati than in most other metropolitan areas, where a robust urban turnaround has been taking place. Compared to the national average of 22.9%, only 17.7% of the region’s jobs were located within three miles of the CBD, which in Cincinnati’s case would also include Uptown. Furthermore, 52.8% of the region’s jobs, approximately 452,000, lie between 10 and 35 miles from downtown.

In the first decade of the new century, which was defined nationally by the huge job losses of the Great Recession, the Cincinnati region lost a total of 76,845 jobs. Of those, 67,122 were within 10 miles of the CBD. While total jobs declined 8.2%, the jobs within 10 to 35 miles of downtown Cincinnati increased 3.3%, with both other areas experiencing declines.

While these recent gains tend to buck the national trend, the Cincinnati region’s employment remains more sprawled than the average American metropolitan area. But while the region has fewer jobs than average within 10 miles its CBD, the Cincinnati region has more jobs within 10 to 35 miles than all but three Midwestern regions (Detroit – 77.4%, Chicago – 67.4%, St. Louis – 62.1%). Columbus and Cleveland come in at 35.4% and 46.5%, respectively.

What this seems to indicate is that Cincinnati has a lower reliance on jobs from manufacturing and agricultural industries than most of its Midwestern peers.

The Brookings Institute went on to find that the Great Recession stalled this trend across the board, as hard-hit industries like manufacturing and retail tend to be the most decentralized. Yet, from 2000 to 2010, 91 of the largest metropolitan areas in the nation saw the number of jobs within three miles of their CBD decline.

Washington, DC, which serves as a national economic outlier for its massive job and wage growth, was the only metropolitan area that saw downtown jobs rise as both a percentage and gross number.

Researchers say that the land-use and zoning policies of each metropolitan area affect the geographical characteristics of jobs within that area. While metropolitan areas with over 500,000 jobs tend to be more decentralized, large metropolitan regions like Chicago, Atlanta or Detroit include large secondary clusters of employment outside of their traditional downtown.

While talented young workers increasingly show their preference for walkable urban communities, jobs continue to decentralize throughout the United States. This distribution creates problems for the region in terms of building and maintaining infrastructure. It also does not bode well for more sprawled regions, like Cincinnati, in terms of being able to attract a new workforce to take the place of aging Baby Boomers.

While Limited in Size, Individuals With Limited English Capabilities Perform Well in Regional Economy

In the United States, more than 45 million working-age adults – over 20% – speak a language other than English in their homes.

According to a report released by the Brookings Institute, approximately 19.2 million (almost 10%) of this sub-population are considered “limited English proficient” (LEP). More than 70% of these LEPs participate in the work force, and the Brookings Institute found that they make considerably less (anywhere from 17-135%) than their English-proficient counterparts. These individuals, researchers found, are also more likely to suffer from unemployment and poverty.

While most LEP individuals live in the nation’s large metropolitan areas, like Cincinnati, their numbers are rapidly growing in smaller urbanized regions, like Dayton and Lexington.

In the Cincinnati metropolitan region, the number of LEP adults exceeds 35,000 and has grown 55.1% since 2000. This places the region in the top 25 of the 89 largest metropolitan areas in the nation; however, LEP individuals only make up 2.5% of the metropolitan region’s total workforce. This places Cincinnati 88th out of the 89 largest regions in America.

There has been a growing interest in this topic recently, with some organizations going as far to organize workshops to help non-native English speakers with business start-up and management training.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the report found that the most commonly spoken language by LEP individuals is Spanish. Across the nation, that percentage is 66.3%, but represents just 41.9% of the LEP population locally.

The Cincinnati region does, however, have a relatively high percentage of Asian and Pacific Island language LEP workers (35.2%), with Chinese, Vietnamese, and Japanese following Spanish as the top languages spoken. French speakers come in next at 3.9%.

It should be emphasized that while Germans represent the region’s predominant historical migrant community, the German language did not rank amongst the top five languages spoken within Cincinnati’s LEP community. This, however, may be the result of Germans immigrating to the region several generations ago. It also speaks to the complexity of the issue of immigration and the need for a comprehensive study of the matter.

Following national trends, the Brookings Institute found that LEP workers in Cincinnati are most likely to work in industries like manufacturing, accommodation and food service. Cincinnati’s LEP workers, however, were found to be slightly more educated than the national average, with a smaller percentage of individuals with less than a high school education and a larger percentage of individuals with an education level of at least some college or a bachelor’s degree or higher.

Those positive numbers seem to translate into better economic performance for the region, with more than 76% of Cincinnati’s LEP workers active in the regional workforce – a rate that is slightly better than the national average.

With demographers predicting that almost all growth in the U.S. labor force will come from immigrants and their children over the next half-century, these statistics have a large impact on the overall well-being of the American economy.

EDITORIAL NOTE: Listen to our podcast with Alfonso Cornejo, President of the Cincinnati Hispanic Chamber, and Kristin Hoffman, an Immigration/Administration Lawyer with Hammond Law Group, to learn more about the region’s efforts and needs to become more welcoming to immigrants and foreign language speakers.