The Democratic Party chose Philadelphia and the Republican Party chose Cleveland, for their respective conventions this year. We will hear much about the Constitution, American democracy and Benjamin Franklin from Philadelphia; much about making Cleveland great again, about the huge wall that will be built to protect it from Mexican invaders.
It is unlikely that we will hear much about income and wealth inequality in those cities, nor much about their school systems. The Economic Policy Institute tells us that the average income of the top one percent in the Philadelphia metropolitan area is $1.1 million; that of the rest of the population is $54,000. Cleveland is poorer at both ends of the income distribution. The top one percent of the Cleveland metropolitan area has an average income of only $895,000; the rest lives on an average of $44,000—again about 1/20th that of their richer neighbors, despite the comparatively modest incomes of the latter.
In Cleveland’s Cuyahoga County, the rich are richer, with an average income of $959,000, and the poor are poorer, with an average income of $41,000. In Philadelphia County, the average income of the bottom 99 percent–that is, practically everyone, is $32,000, slightly under the Medicaid eligibility level for a family of four. Almost 40 percent of Black families with children under 18 years of age in Philadelphia County live in poverty. The average Black family in Cuyahoga County has an income of also $32,000; 44 percent of Black families with children in Cuyahoga County live in poverty.
In order for Cleveland to be great again, it will need a well-educated workforce. A good measure of educational achievement is the National Assessment of Educational Progress’ eighth grade reading test. If children cannot read well by then, they are unlikely to earn a meaningful high school diploma, unlikely to go to college, unlikely to earn an above average income, and, if they are Black males, very likely to spend time in prison. Unfortunately, four out of five White students in Cleveland are below grade level in eighth grade reading. Catastrophically, 92 percent of Black students in the city’s public schools cannot read at grade level when they reach eighth grade. This is obviously an emergency and we can anticipate a wonderful plan to emerge to make the Cleveland schools great again.
Which brings us to Philadelphia, cradle of the Constitution, home of the Liberty Bell, and so forth. Same thing: 74 percent of White students in grade eight cannot read proficiently, neither can 91 percent of Black students. Meanwhile the district itself is in total disarray, the result of decades of mismanagement at all levels and in all areas.
Just six percent of male Black eighth-grade students in Philadelphia can read at grade level, just seven percent in Cleveland. The central offices of their school districts no doubt know who they are. As for the rest, the local criminal justice systems are probably working out their hiring plans and jail accommodation budgets appropriately. They will, of course, have to take into account a deduction based on ProPublica’s analysis that Black teens are 21 times as likely as white teens to be shot and killed by police. After all, Cleveland is the home of Tamir Rice, whose murder at the hand of a cop has never been adjudicated, while Philadelphia has long had a reputation for brutal policing.
The choice of these cities as sites for their national conventions by our two great political parties is a wonderful opportunity to shine a light on these matters and remedy the problems that light will reveal. We hope the outcome will be measures to lessen income inequality, to improve the schools, to eliminate police shootings of Black children. We can always hope.