Cumberland, Maryland has been named the poorest city in the state for several years in a row. According to a 2023 report by 24/7 Wall Street, the median household income in Cumberland is $25,062, which is well below the state median of $69,272. The poverty rate in Cumberland is also high, at 25.7%. This means that one in four people in Cumberland live below the poverty line.
In this article, we delve into the factors that have contributed to Cumberland’s persistent poverty and explore potential avenues to address this challenge.
Factors that have contributed to Cumberland’s poverty:
Economic Decline and Reliance on the Steel Industry
Cumberland’s economic fortunes have long been intertwined with the steel industry. For decades, the city was a thriving hub for steel production, providing a significant portion of its workforce with well-paying jobs. However, the late 20th century witnessed the steel industry’s decline, causing a devastating impact on Cumberland’s economy. The loss of these once-stable and lucrative employment opportunities led to widespread unemployment, a shrinking tax base, and a weakened local economy.
High Unemployment Rate and Low Educational Attainment
The consequences of the steel industry’s decline were exacerbated by Cumberland’s persistent lack of job opportunities. The city’s unemployment rate consistently surpasses the national average, and it mainly relies on low-wage service sector jobs, which limit economic mobility. Adding to this issue, Cumberland’s levels of educational attainment fall below the national average, making it increasingly challenging for residents to acquire the skills and knowledge needed for higher-paying positions.
Social Challenges and Lack of Affordable Housing
The economic and educational challenges faced by Cumberland residents have given rise to various social issues that further perpetuate poverty. The city grapples with a high crime rate, discouraging potential investments and fostering an unsafe environment for its residents. Additionally, Cumberland has a low rate of homeownership and a shortage of affordable housing, making it difficult for individuals and families to establish stable roots and build wealth.
Historical Factors and Limited Economic Diversification
Cumberland’s reliance on the steel industry and its limited diversification of industries render the city vulnerable to economic shocks. The historical economic focus on steel has also hindered the city’s ability to attract new businesses and diversify its economy. This lack of diversity has made it challenging for Cumberland to recover from the loss of the steel industry and create sustainable employment opportunities.
Addressing Poverty in Cumberland
Tackling poverty in Cumberland necessitates a multifaceted approach that takes into account both economic and social factors contributing to the issue. Economic development initiatives should prioritize attracting new businesses, diversifying the local economy, and providing training and support for residents to secure higher-paying jobs. Simultaneously, social programs must address crime, promote safe neighborhoods, and provide affordable housing options. Educational initiatives should aim to expand access to quality education and offer opportunities for skill development and career advancement.
To turn the tide of poverty in Cumberland, it will require sustained investment, collaboration among various stakeholders, and a deep-seated commitment to creating a more equitable and prosperous community. By addressing the root causes of poverty and investing in human capital, Cumberland can break the cycle of disadvantage and create a brighter future for its residents.
Cumberland’s struggles serve as a poignant reminder of the broader challenges faced by many small towns across the United States, as they grapple with the fallout of declining industries and the impact of poverty on their communities. However, with concerted efforts and a commitment to positive change, Cumberland and places like it can work towards a more prosperous future for all their residents.