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A New York Times investigation detailing the plight of more than 22,000 homeless children in New York City prompted a fierce discussion about poverty in the United States on ABC’s This Week -- and specifically who’s to blame.
Robert Reich, a Democrat and former Labor Department secretary, said Republicans shoulder responsibility for blocking legislation supported by Democrats and President Barack Obama.
"Baloney," responded former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.
"Every major city which has a center of poverty is run by Democrats," Gingrich said. "Every major city."
We can’t easily assess whether Democrats or Republicans are to blame for poverty in U.S. cities, but we can analyze the basic statistics to see if Gingrich's point was correct. (Gingrich did not respond to us.)
To measure the accuracy of Gingrich’s comment, we isolated the largest 50 U.S. cities using 2012 U.S. Census Bureau data. We then calculated the percentage of people in each city who are living below the federal poverty line, thanks to this Governing magazine report that relied on Census Bureau data.
From there, we created a list of the 20 biggest U.S. cities with the largest percentage of people living below the federal poverty level (about $11,500 for one person).
And finally, we researched the political party of the mayor in each city.
Comparing poverty rates and political affiliation in large U.S. cities
|City||% of people below poverty level||Mayor||Political party|
|Detroit, MI||42.3||David Bing||Democrat|
|Cleveland, OH||36.1||Frank Jackson||Democrat|
|Miami, FL||31.7||Tomás Regalado||Republican|
|Fresno, CA||31.5||Ashley Swearengin||Republican|
|Milwaukee, WI||29.9||Tom Barrett||Democrat|
|Memphis, TN||28.3||A C Wharton||Democrat|
|Philadelphia, PA||26.9||Michael Nutter||Democrat|
|Tucson, AZ||26.7||Jonathan Rothschild||Democrat|
|Atlanta, GA||25.8||Kasim Reed||Democrat|
|Baltimore, MD||24.8||Stephanie Rawlings-Blake||Democrat|
|Phoenix, AZ||24.1||Greg Stanton||Democrat|
|Chicago, IL||23.9||Rahm Emanuel||Democrat|
|Dallas, TX||23.9||Mike Rawlings||Democrat|
|Houston, TX||23.5||Annise Parker||Democrat|
|Sacramento, CA||23.4||Kevin Johnson||Democrat|
|Los Angeles, CA||23.3||Eric Garcetti||Democrat|
|Long Beach, CA||22.9||Bob Foster||Democrat|
|El Paso, TX||22.8||Oscar Leeser||Democrat|
|Minneapolis, MN||22.7||R.T. Rybak||Democrat|
|Indianapolis, IN||22.2||Gregory Ballard||Republican|
As you can see, out of the top 5 poorest major cities, two are led by Republicans -- Miami and Fresno, Calif. When we expand that to the top 20, we find three Republican mayors. For the record, New York -- which prompted the discussion -- ranked 25th out of the top 50 cities. Current New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has served as both a Republican and an independent.
University of Michigan population studies professor Sheldon Danziger suggested analyzing state poverty levels and matching those with governors’ political ties would be more accurate than honing in on cities.
Like we said at the outset, we’re staying away from drawing conclusions about poverty in U.S. cities and the political affiliation of their elected leader. We’re simply analyzing the statistics behind Gingrich’s comment.
Gingrich emphasized that every major, poor U.S. city is run by Democrats. We found two cities in the top 5 poorest, and three in the top 20, that have Republicans at the helm. Yes, most cities on the list are led by Democrats, but Gingrich said "every." As such, we rate his statement Mostly False.
Biggest U.S. Cities, "Largest U.S. cities by population," Oct. 3, 2013
CQ, ABC This Week transcript, Dec. 15, 2013
Email interview with Sheldon Danziger, University of Michigan population studies professor, Dec. 15, 2013
Governing, "Poverty rates remain stubbornly high in big cities," Sept. 24, 2013
New York Times, "Invisible child," Dec. 9, 2013
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