How Erie Ranks in Racial and Economic Inclusion

September 29th, 2020, 10:31 AM

The Urban Institute recently published an article in their blog entitled "Which Cities Became More (and Less) Racially and Economically Inclusive over the Past Few Years?" wherein they follow up on the rankings found in their first 2018 study of 274 of the largest US cities ranked on racial, economic, and overall inclusion across four decades. While Erie is included in the study, this particular installment peaked interest here at Erie Vital Signs for highlighting Duluth, MN. Savvy EVS users know that Duluth's St. Louis County is one of Erie, PA's peer counties  compared across EVS indicators, and Urban Institute's  study lauded our peer county's seat city as most improved in the cohort, rising 73 ranks in the three years to 178th out of 274 (low is better). What was Erie's progress over the same period? Overall we fell from 229th to 254th.  Erie residents see Duluth's 73 rank positive jump and think just three data-years prior Duluth was at 251st, lower than Erie was, what changed in Duluth?



Economic Inclusion and Economic Health

Urban's Overall Inclusion Rank is a composite of their Economic Inclusion Rank, Racial Inclusion Rank, and Economic Health Rank, which themselves are variable-packed collections of indicators. Their "Economic Inclusion" reflects the ability of residents with lower incomes to contribute to and benefit from economic prosperity. They measure this by looking at income segregation, housing affordability, the share of working poor residents, and the high school dropout rate. In the case of Duluth's upset ranking, and Erie's slump too, this Economic Inclusion category was the most telling.  On all the ranking topics listed above, Duluth improved enough in the three data-years to rise from 134th lowest to 63rd. Erie crossed its path falling from 127th to the 205th worst today.

So the economy again. . . Yes, and we know there's been so much talk about Erie's economy, and especially this year, but let's rewind to those three rankings. There's a difference between Urban's Economic Inclusion Rank and their Economic Health Rank, and that difference speaks volumes, and did for the cities who took on the issues. The Economic Health Rankings are unsurprising for Erie residents, and are basically on trend for Duluth as well. This rank captures the strength of a city's local economy. Urban measures this by looking at employment growth, the unemployment rate, the housing vacancy rate, and median family income. Duluth followed a 40-year rising rank up from 108th to 93rd in the last three data-years, while Erie, following its mostly downward slope, slid further from 228th to 249th out of 274. So, while yes, Erie residents are continually reminded about the City's lagging economic health, its slight change over the decades, while experiencing wildly shifting scores in Economic Inclusion, are at the very heart of the issue.  Indicators of economic inclusion are perhaps not monitored or addressed as effectively as those economic health indicators and this is likely the main reason why Duluth receives nationwide recognition while Erie trails the pack. Regardless, Duluth clearly has a keen focus on improving their inclusion performance. 


So their economic health ranks 100 higher than ours . . . Yes, but only one of the indicators within Economic Inclusion looks much different from one another (they are our peer city after all).

  • Income segregation - Erie (.12) and Duluth (.11);
  • Rent-burdened residents - Erie (42%) and Duluth (41%)
  • High school dropout rate – Erie (5%) and Duluth (3%)
  • Working-poor families – Erie (5%) and Duluth (1%)

That last one, the percentage of families that are 'working poor' or otherwise are below the poverty line with the householder working full-time, fell for Duluth for the first time (3% to 1% in 3 years) while continuing a 20 year rise in Erie (2% to 5% since 2000). In Urban's goal to measure residents' benefitting from economic prosperity this is foundational.

Racial Inclusion

We've indicated that Economic Inclusion was the driving factor in the two peer cities rank changes, and while that is true, there exists indicators of Racial Inclusion which only furthered the effect. When we say that neither city changed significantly on their Racial Inclusion Rank, we note the dismal scores which both cities display, Erie at 259th (down from 255) and Duluth at 257th (up from 270th) out of 274.

 Both maintain a mostly stagnant trend as far back as the ranking goes to the 1980s.  Below are the indicators which comprise Racial Inclusion:

  • People of color as a share of the population (percentage) – Erie (31%) and Duluth (12%)
  • Racial homeownership gap (percentage difference) – Erie (29%) and Duluth (32%)
  • Racial poverty gap (percentage difference) – Erie (21%) and Duluth (23%)
  • Racial education gap (percentage difference) – Erie (16%) and Duluth (12%)
  • Racial segregation (index) – Erie (37) and Duluth (21)

It's in the racial segregation index, a spatial racial segregation calculation based on the numbers of persons of color and in a census tract and within the city compared with the same calculation of white, where Duluth saw rise since just 2013, positively moving their score from 30 to 21 while Erie only improved one point from 38 to 37. Sure, Duluth's people of color share of the population is nearly a third of Erie's, but such lack of marked improvement is one of the reasons why Erie and Duluth are at the bottom of the Racial Inclusion rankings. 

Including Inclusion

So what do we do . . . Relative to Racial and Economic Inclusion, Urban listed the following as "factors" driving Duluth's improvement, but we know that the leap from inclusive ideations to results-driving initiatives and policy can be as wide as the gaps we wish to address.

Duluth's Inclusion Factors:

  • a reduction in income segregation (residents were more likely to live near people of different income levels in 2016 than they were three years prior)
  • reductions in the share of households paying more than 35 percent of their annual household income on rent
  • reductions in the proportion of families that contain at least one person working full time but still earn less than the federal poverty level
  • reductions in racial segregation
  • reductions in their racial homeownership gap
  • reductions in their racial poverty gap

Remember this is one ranking from one NGO think tank. We've identified the similarities and dissimilarities between two cities in the study and identified the major indicators in contention and through which our scores were affected. Indicators (close to our hearts here at EVS) represent a cyclical relationship and not a definitive result nor a prescriptive target. Use the above rankings, factors, and indicators as the ethos of our initiatives and a reflection of their successes. They require a seat at the table of decisionmaking, and should be ends to the means of policy. Steps are being taken, see the most recent resolution passed by Erie County Council on Racism as a Public Health Crisis.  


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