Last summer, a nonprofit called EdBuild examined child poverty rate disparities between neighboring school districts. They then ranked neighboring school districts from largest to smallest disparities. Of the top ten largest disparities in the US, two of them were in the Miami Valley. Danielle Rhubart is a lecturer and sociologist at University of Dayton. She studies poverty in urban and rural communities and brings us this commentary - about why poverty disparity matters and how to fix it.
The Dayton City School District with its neighboring Oakwood City School District and Beavercreek City School District were ranked as some of the most economically segregated school districts in the country. Beavercreek and Oakwood School Districts have child poverty rates below 10 percent. In contrast, Dayton City School District has a child poverty rate of nearly 50 percent. That means that nearly 1 in 2 school age children you meet in Dayton live at or below the poverty line.
So, it might be important to ask: Why should we care? Is significant economic inequality inherently bad? Well, if you are living in the Dayton City School District, then sure, economic inequality is inherently bad. In fact, we see it playing out in the educational attainment and subsequent life outcomes of Dayton residents.
But if you live in Beavercreek or Oakwood, how is economic inequality negatively affecting your life? High poverty rates in your region will ultimately lead to higher taxes to subsidize services and programs for low-income residents. And economic segregation makes economic development more difficult. It can also hurt tourism. And if none of those seem like valid arguments, perhaps religious or faith-based responsibilities leave you acknowledging the need to address such severe disparities.
So, now the question is: Can we do anything about economic segregation in our community?
Earlier this summer, NPR covered a story on some research done by French network scientists (Thomas Louail, Maxime Lenormand, Juan Murillo Arias and Jose Ramasco) examining economic segregation. First, they found that in urban areas, we tend to spend our dollars in the communities that are most similar to our residential community. This exacerbates economic segregation and economic disparities.
More importantly, they show how severe economic inequality might be overcome by small changes in consumer habits. They find that only 5 percent of our shopping trips need to be shifted to businesses in less economically advantaged areas in order to see a significant reduction in economic segregation. That is a small percentage of the total number of trips we take to businesses in a month. Now, granted, this research was done in Barcelona and Madrid and was based entirely on computer simulations, but I think it can give us hope in our own agency to create change in the Miami Valley.
So, no. You don’t need to sell your house and move from Oakwood or Beavercreek to Dayton in order to be part of the solution, though, that might help. Rather, you can begin to be part of the solution by making small changes in your consumption patterns. Instead of going to a corporate chain in the suburbs, grab dinner at a locally owned restaurant in Dayton, where your dollars stay local. And when possible, utilize grocery stores and other businesses in the city of Dayton.
The fact is, we live in a region that is home to severe economic inequality. And we are all responsible for the problem and its solution no matter what school district we were born into.
This solution doesn’t require debates about regulations, social welfare programs, or what should be considered basic human rights. Rather, this solution is about acknowledging a hard-to-swallow fact about our community and then making small changes in our weekly purchasing patterns, to help break down the disparities that in the end, will help us all.
Danielle Rhubart is a lecturer and sociologist at University of Dayton.