A recent report from the U.S. Census Bureau shows very sobering numbers in terms of poverty in the Midwest. Ohio’s poverty rate — a family of four making $22,300 or less — is the highest in more than 30 years.
This came on the heels of last year’s census report that showed that one of every three Cleveland residents lives in poverty. That makes them the second most impoverished major city in the country, trailing only nearby Detroit.
Continuing the pattern of Midwestern Rust Belt cities that have fallen back on hard times in the last decade, Cleveland is among a number of areas that has been crippled by the loss of manufacturing jobs.
“We’re heavily dominated by manufacturing just like Detroit,” said George Zeller, an economic research analyst who lives in Youngstown, Ohio. “That’s the problem that we’ve had”
“Nationally, there were two recessions the last decade. One was 2000-2002, which was relatively mild, and the other one from 2007-2009. Here in Ohio, the recession has been approaching 11 years long.”
In 2009, the poverty rate for Cleveland, Ohio’s second-largest city, was at 35 percent, up from 31 percent in 2008. Detroit, the city widely regarded as the hardest hit, was at 36.4 percent. The massive job losses, along with the failure of the housing market, have crippled Ohio.
“Ohio never recovered from the 2002 recession,” Zeller said. “They continued to lose jobs statewide since 2000. The job loss in Ohio (since 2000) is 586,593.”
Of Ohio’s largest cities, as of 2009, the city with the highest poverty rate is Youngstown at 35.7 percent, followed by Cleveland, Dayton (30.9), Cincinnati (25.7), Akron (24.6), Toledo (23.8), and Columbus (22.6).
The struggles in Cleveland and Youngstown mirror that of Detroit. The auto and steel industries were the primary parts of their local economies.
When the auto industry experienced its first major collapse in the 1970s, the cities took major hits. With the crumbling of the inner cities – and the suburban sprawl of areas such as Lakewood, Shaker Heights, Euclid, and Cleveland Heights — the “us versus them” dynamic developed between the city and its suburbs.
“In Cleveland, everything is kind of skewed,” said Bliss Davis, a Cleveland native and producer at WKEF-TV in Dayton. “My parents were homeowners, but compared to others, we were still considered working class, but in Cleveland, we were considered as doing pretty well.”
Cleveland was able to rebound somewhat in the 1990s when they went through a massive revitalization downtown and North Coast Harbor along Lake Erie. Such additions included the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, Jacob’s Field (the home of the Cleveland Indians; now known as Progressive Field), Quicken Loans Arena, and the Great lakes Science Center.
However, while the city was going through a downtown rebirth, even being called a “Comeback City” nationally, inner city Cleveland continued to suffer. Much like Detroit and Chicago, blight was and still is evident in many of Cleveland’s neighborhoods.
“There is a street called Kinsman Avenue where on the Cleveland side of the street there will be an empty lot with trash in it and overgrown grass and as soon as you crossover (into neighboring Shaker Heights), it’s like a whole new world,” Davis said. “Of course with classism issues, things also begin to divide by race as well.
“From the outside looking in, that’s one of the things that people don’t realize that it’s not as much a race issue as it is a class issue.”
Since 2000, the manufacturing jobs in Cuyahoga County fell by 36.3 percent “Those are the high-wage jobs that constitute the base of the economy,” Zeller said.
Ohio’s unemployment rate is at 9.1 percent as of August. Combine that with the high poverty rate, and there is a massive problem.
This is part three in a Grio series on the U.S. economy, as seen in several U.S. cities.Much like Michigan, the manufacturing industry was once a great option for those in Ohio looking for work coming straight out of high school. A much larger emphasis has been put on education as a way of getting a better job and making more money in the last 30 years.
“With the working class, we tend to have jobs instead of careers,” said Davis, who holds a degree in journalism from Bowling Green State University. “Right now, I have a career. If I didn’t have this job, I’d still be able to do something. But if you’re working in the factory, and you lose your job, it’s harder to do something else.”
That was an issue that many autoworkers in Michigan, Ohio, and across the Midwest ran into when they lost their jobs. Many had spent close to 30 years at their jobs and had done nothing other than factory work since they were teens.
The Cleveland school district has struggled mightily in the past, but has seen a recent upswing. The city’s graduation rate rose from 54 to 63 percent in 2010, the most recent collection of data.
The graduation rate jumped from 60 to 75 percent for black students. Nearly 70 percent of Cleveland’s students are African-American. Still, Cleveland’s public schools had numerous and very familiar problems.
“My parents sent us to private school (after originally attending a public school),” said Davis. “I was because the (public) schools were just that terrible. We would have to bring paper sometimes so teachers could print off our tests.”
It sounds eerily similar to the educational situation in Detroit, where students have had to deal with substandard equipment, outdated books, and damaged buildings. Students haven’t had to bring toilet paper with them to school in Cleveland, however.
“We were lucky to have toilet paper, but when it ran out, it took a while to be replaced,” Davis said. “I started taking pictures of rundown fences and lots around Cleveland. I feel like if people get angry enough, maybe they’ll do something.”
Davis eventually had to sell her camera to take care of her bills. “Something’s wrong here. Something is very, very wrong.”
“The only saving grace that Cleveland has is the Cleveland Clinic,” Davis said. “If the Cleveland Clinic didn’t exist, we would probably be worse than Detroit. It’s hard to not find someone in Cleveland who doesn’t work in the medical field.”
So what can be a solution to the increasing problem of poverty in Cleveland and throughout Ohio? Zeller sees some growth in places such as Youngstown, which has seen an influx of jobs from the reopening of the city’s General Motors plant and with the construction of a new steel mill. But this is still much work to be done.
“It depends on what you mean by a turnaround,” Zeller said. “The losses in Youngstown go back decades. It’s just an enormous hole that’s been dug in the economy.
“Are we better now than we were than we were a year ago in Youngstown? Yes. Are we better today than we were in 2000? No. Are we better now than we were in 1976? No. How long will it take to dig out (of this recession)? It would take years. Going back to the 70s, then decades.”
Davis feels an improvement can come in Cleveland through education reform. She feels that an educated city has a better chance at survival.
“I feel like there’s stuff that kids don’t know that they should know,” Davis said. “Once again, it will take people getting angry enough and taking it personally enough to get something done. You can’t expect greatness when kids are bringing paper to run off tests and having books that are outdated — if you have books — and schools falling apart.”
As for the numerous comparisons with Detroit, which is a three-hour drive northwest from Cleveland, Davis sees too many similarities between the rival cities and feels they are all in the same boat.
“When it gets this bad, and the numbers may point to specifics, but we’re on the same hill,” Davis said. “One may be going downhill faster than the other, but we’re on that same hill.
“It’ll be interesting to see where this all heads, especially since it’s very obvious that there’s nothing positive going on with the economy. That’s what frightens me the most.”