By Salena Zito
Published: Saturday, July 27, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
When the Orlando family built a new bakery in this city's Kinsman neighborhood in 1980, they were assured by city officials that an industrial park soon would follow the family's trailblazing investment in a blighted neighborhood.
“You see this parking lot across the street?” said Chet “Sonny” Orlando, pointing to a paved lot filled with employees' and visitors' cars. “Nothing but empty crack houses there — we bought those too, tore them down and built this.”
Outside Orlando Baking Co., the aroma of fresh breads and rolls mixed with rosemary, garlic and fennel could cause the most dedicated dieter to lose his will.
That contrasts starkly with the poverty encircling the grid of numbered streets leading from the interstate to the guarded, gated bakery that employs 40 family members and 400 local residents.
The Orlando family — whose 140-year history as bakers began in Italy and moved to America a century ago — works hard to make their community better: They donate surplus bread to a local food bank; they hire people from the neighborhood. They're good stewards.
Yet the staggering number of deteriorated houses, condemned buildings, rows of vacant lots, and old industrial brownfields used as garbage dumps is impossible to ignore.
Cleveland — like many Rust Belt cities slowly recovering from the industrial collapse that began in the 1970s and '80s — has a poverty problem. It regularly ranks among America's poorest big cities, with per-capita income at just $17,000 a year.
But poverty isn't just a problem in old Midwestern industrial cities such as Cleveland, Detroit or Gary, Ind.
Ninety percent of the country's poverty is dispersed across rural counties, where social services and safety nets are nonexistent or hard to access.
A survey released last month by the Annie E. Casey Foundation showed an alarming number of U.S. families struggling with poverty; nationwide, 23 percent of children lived in poverty-stricken families in 2011, the fourth year in a row that America's poverty levels have increased.
As President Obama last week began yet another “pivot” on jobs (at least his 19th since taking office), his administration laid out rhetoric blaming Republicans “for dropping the ball.”
But many Americans, including many of the nearly 12 million still looking for work, are tired of such finger-pointing, tired of seeing neighborhoods and people fall into despair, tired of the crime that follows such decline.
Washington, for all intents and purposes, has failed the poor. Republicans do appear to be unresponsive toward the problem — but Democrats aren't so crazy about claiming ownership of it, either.
Why? Because there's no political payoff.
By sheer definition, the poor do not donate to campaigns, so they have no influence with a political system corrupted by insane amounts of money.
Money doesn't just talk in our system, “it shouts,” according to Purdue University political science professor Bert Rockman. “A large part of why Washington ignores our poverty problem is that poor people disproportionately do not vote and, certainly, they have no money to contribute.”
When federal dollars are spent to eradicate poverty, the money mostly becomes a boondoggle for special interests that know how to ply influence in administrative implementation. Or it helps to grease the corrupt gear-works of machine politics.
Catherine Wilson, associate professor of public administration at Villanova University, said the United States needs to take an honest look at its systemic causes of poverty and we are long overdue for a national call to action.
Standing in the foyer of Orlando Baking last week, a few miles from where three women were found dead inside abandoned buildings in East Cleveland, Ohio Gov. John Kasich said those murders were part of the heartbreaking results of poverty in such communities.
Poverty “is kind of at the core of it to me,” he said, adding: “The best way to tackle poverty is to give people hope by giving them a sense that they can get work.”
Outside, a young man walked toward the bakery after getting off a bus a few blocks away. “This place saved me,” he said, placing a white jacket and hair net on as he prepared to start his shift.
Salena Zito covers politics for Trib Total Media (412-320-7879 or firstname.lastname@example.org).
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- LeBeau wants to come back as Steelers defensive coordinator
- Concert promoter’s book shares 40 years of music memories, trade secrets, celeb antics
- Kovacevic: A great day to appreciate No. 68
- Steelers notebook: Cutting down turnovers, sacks hasn’t led to victories
- Hax: Take steps toward becoming your best self
- Duo sought in spate of graffiti
- Osmonds bring a spirited mix of music to Consol show
- Plenty of gifts in store at holiday jazz concert
- Industrial past inspires Fairmont’s ‘Garden of Titans’ holiday tree
- Fashion FYI: Trunk shows opening up in Pittsburgh
- Vanderbilt may hire independent auditor