Dayton's slow march into economic irrelevancy

It’s no secret that Dayton’s economy has taken its lumps and presently limps along. The chart below reveals this all the more clearly, by looking at per capita income trends--one indicator of economic health--for Dayton and four other Ohio metro areas.

Chart: Widening income gap between Dayton and other Ohio areas – Per capita income by metropolitan statistical area, 1995 to 2011

SOURCE: Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland  NOTE: The percent differences, author's calculation, compare Dayton and Cleveland's incomes and are shown relative Dayton’s income for 1995, 2000, 2005, and 2011 (the last year of available data).

It’s striking to see that in 1995, Dayton’s per capita income was roughly on par with Akron, Cincinnati, and Columbus. (Cleveland is noticeably ahead of this group in 1995.) But during the late 1990s and early 2000s, a growing gap begins to emerge as Columbus and Cincinnati race ahead, even catching up to Cleveland’s per capita income level. Meanwhile, Dayton grows at a snail’s pace in comparison. As a result, the gap between Dayton and its peer cities develops into a small chasm, so much so that by 2011, Dayton’s per capita income was some $3,000 below Akron, Columbus, and Cincinnati, and $5,000—or 13 percent—below Cleveland.  

Terry’s blog post earlier this week spotlighted the bold, citywide education reforms in Cincinnati, Cleveland, and Columbus. One city was conspicuously absent: Fordham’s hometown of Dayton. Its absence doesn’t portend well for the city, or for its current crop of kids and their economic futures. For, it is well established that educational attainment is linked to earnings and economic well-being. Unless the leaders of Dayton and its surrounding communities get on with making education changes, such as those that are occurring in Ohio’s other urban areas, Dayton’s residents can only expect to continue their slow march into economic irrelevancy.

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