ELYRIA — Lorain County residents who start at the bottom are likely to stay there.
It’s a startling statistic, but one community leaders are aiming to solve, starting with the conversation Wednesday night at a community forum hosted by Lorain County Community College.
According to research from the Equality of Opportunity Project, a child in Lorain County who is born and raised in poverty has a 5.1 percent chance of reaching a family income of $70,000 by the age of 30, or more than $100,000 by age 45.
More than likely, those who start at the lowest income levels will stay there.
That is unless there is systemic intervention and, as LCCC President Marcia Ballinger can attest, that change often starts with education. After all, the premise of social mobility is the genesis behind why institutions like LCCC came into existence decades ago.
The idea, Ballinger said, was to “provide that educational attainment so that individuals could in fact move up and out from that economic sphere from which they started.”
Census data back up Ballinger’s observations, drawing a clear line between education level and poverty in a population. Lorain County is a picture of how whether a person went to college and where they live are indicators of the likelihood they are to live in poverty.
According to figures from 2016, just 3.8 percent of the populations of Avon and Avon Lake were considered to be living in poverty. There, roughly 50 percent of the population has a bachelor’s degree or higher and median household incomes upward of $80,000.
To the contrary, Lorain’s poverty rate is 26.2 percent and Elyria’s is 22.2 percent. In both cities, less than 20 percent of residents have advanced degrees — 11.7 percent and 15.4 percent, respectively. And, the median incomes of both are roughly half when compared with their suburban counterparts to the east.
With data in hand, the community college said it is working on a plan to get more students to graduation and employment. But social mobility is not a one institution’s problem to fix.
Wednesday’s forum was a call to action from LCCC to remind those in the community that they share in the duty to help the community grow.
Attendance was high as county businesspeople, educators, government officials and representatives from nonprofit organizations gathered to discuss what each is doing to promote economic mobility and what collaborative actions are needed for the future.
“We are one piece of this,” Ballinger said at an afternoon meeting at The Chronicle-Telegram.
Ballinger shared an in-depth look at how LCCC is changing, moving from an organization that just six years ago graduated 8 percent of its first-year, full-time students to one where now nearly a quarter of the same population is walking across the stage at commencement in two years.
“We have made a lot of progress, but have so far to go,” Ballinger said.
The evening forum also included a presentation by David Dodson, president of MDC (originally known as Manpower Development Corp.) MDC is a nonprofit organization based in Durham, N.C., that publishes research and develops programs focused on expanding opportunity, reducing poverty and addressing structural inequity.
Dodson spoke after spending a day as a panelist alongside local leaders like El Centro de Servicios Sociales Executive Director Victor Leandry, Lorain Schools CEO David Hardy and Cynthia Andrews, the recently installed president and CEO of the Community Foundation of Lorain County.