Unemployment in Black Cities: Cleveland, Ohio
As part of our continuing series, we look at black unemployment in the much-maligned Rust Belt city.
Cleveland is one of the “blackest” municipalities in the Rust Belt.
According to the Census Department, African-Americans formed a majority there in 2010, at over 53% of the population. This dwarfed the white demographic (37%) and especially the Hispanic community (10%). The heavy black representation outpaced that of rival city Cincinnati and was far higher than in the populous state capital of Columbus.
People of color have long called Cleveland home. Much of this is due to the city’s economic development; situated on the Ohio and Erie Canal and with good access to markets both east and west, it became one of the early industrial centers in its region. This attracted unskilled black laborers from the South looking for work, and as the city grew these individuals stayed and prospered with it.
But the good times didn’t last. A migration of a different sort began in the twentieth century, with manufacturing jobs finding their way overseas to countries with much lower labor and production costs. As a result, Cleveland began a long, slow decline that saw many of its once-busy factories stand idle and eventually rot away. The city and its decay into ugly irrelevance became a token of urban failure and a punch line for comedians.
[ALSO READ: Unemployment In Black Atlanta]
The city has recovered, but that recuperation has been a long time coming. As is often the case, during the hard years the city’s blacks suffered disproportionately. According to a study conducted by the Economic Policy Institute, before the Great Recession hit a few years ago, the African-American population in the Cleveland metro area suffered from one of the highest unemployment rates of any municipality in this country, at almost 15% of its total population.
With the general economic slowdown in the US, that number grew even higher to over 18% in 2010. Whites had it much better than their brethren of color; the city’s ratio of unemployed blacks to Caucasians was a steep 2.4, the sixth-highest out of the 29 cities tracked in the EPI’s study.
The city’s not out of the woods yet, but there seems to be a clearing in sight. Several economic sectors in the metropolis have been taking on workers, particularly information technology. Cleveland officials made a concentrated effort to attract companies operating in the sector and the effort seems to be paying off. Last summer, in fact, Businessweek named it the American city with the biggest growth rate in tech jobs.
Meanwhile, Cleveland also benefits from being a longtime center of the medical industry, thanks in no small part to its well-renowned institutions such as the MetroHealth Center and Case Western Reserve University, which is home to some of the top researchers in the field. All told, Cleveland is doing better on the employment front than its state and its country: Cleveland metro had an unemployment rate of 6.7% this past May, beating Ohio’s 7.3% and America’s 8.2%.
More promisingly for the city’s black community is one statistic buried fairly deep in the Census Department’s figures. More than one-quarter of Cleveland’s businesses – 26%, to be precise – are owned by African-Americans. That’s surely a positive for the job-hunting members of the community, who’ve struggled to find work in the recent past.