George Zeller

It is tempting to be excited about what is happening in the Rust Belt: the region seems to have more energy and zest than it did ten years ago. In Cleveland and Northeast Ohio, we hear a lot of talk about a “turnaround”: the Republicans, LeBron, and educated millennials are coming here; new hip spots are opening. This poor, struggling region is coming back, right?

Not if you look at the numbers. Bits of good news — as  welcome as they may be — are dwarfed by a relentlessly bleak economic reality. The numbers are bad — and getting worse — and the suffering behind those numbers is more wretched.  To this human misery more attention must be paid.

Let’s start with the five-county Cleveland region, consisting of Cuyahoga, Lake, Medina, Geauga, and Lorain Counties. There are 48,419 fewer jobs in this region than in 2007. Cuyahoga County, where Cleveland is located, has lost 33,546 jobs since 2007 — for a total of 108,664 jobs gone since 2000.

Why is this region continuing to lose jobs despite a supposed economic recovery nationally and at home? One reason is that Ohio was hit by a recession long before the rest of the nation: the recession started here in 2000, well before the 2007 national “Great Recession.” And it lasted an entire decade, until 2010. Since 2010, the recovery has been continuously and painfully slow. As a result, Ohio still has 399,792 fewer jobs today than it had in 2000. Northeast Ohio has lagged behind the state: the 16 counties of northeast Ohio currently have 99,772 fewer jobs than they had only seven years ago in 2007. Of those 16 counties, only one, Carroll County, has recovered all of the jobs that it lost as a result of the “Great Recession.”

Such figures should be kept in the forefront of our minds when we celebrate new developments and start-ups. Like this one: in the past 7 years, Northeast Ohio has lost almost 100,000 jobs. We may have gained more craft brewers and millennials with college degrees, but many more people have entered the ranks of the unemployed.  The most quantitative addition to the region has been poverty and human misery, not hipsters.

Ohio has finally begun to recover from the “Great Recession,” but the recovery has been too slow for hundreds of thousands of Ohio workers who lost their jobs and who still cannot find a new job. And the most recent numbers show no cause for optimism: in July 2014 Ohio lost more jobs than any other state in the United States. In August things barely improved, as Ohio gained only 200 jobs, meaning that Ohio’s summer job growth was a barely detectable 200 jobs. August 2014 was the 22nd consecutive month when Ohio’s sub-par job growth was below the United States national average.

As a result of this catastrophic massive job loss and then the catastrophic extremely slow recovery, hundreds of thousands of Ohio workers and hundreds of thousands of northeast Ohio workers are suffering because their incomes have fallen to zero.

Also, the average wage paid to an Ohio worker fell during all four quarters of 2013. So, not only has human suffering skyrocketed in Ohio among the hundreds of thousands of families where workers lost their jobs, but for the 2,344,397 Ohio workers who still are employed, wages are still being cut.

What has been our response to this catastrophic situation? The Congress in Washington eliminated extended unemployment benefits, so that no jobless Ohio worker collected extended unemployment benefits last week. Further, the state of Ohio and the federal government intentionally slowed down the recovery by eliminating governmental stimulus to the labor market. Among all industries in Ohio, the largest job losses have been from the elimination of federal, state, and local government jobs as government spending was cut. Taxes were cut too, primarily for affluent taxpayers.

Cutting spending during a bad recession is proven disastrous public policy. It is the same thing that was done in 1929 and caused the Great Depression. We constantly see calls for additional spending cuts, both in Washington and in Columbus. Those cuts will cause even more Ohioans to suffer even longer.

These policies are dangerous. The single-minded focus of public policy in both Washington and Columbus must be a large increase in spending, immediately. Timing is critical, since we are in danger of another recession: the stock market might tank again, and the Federal Reserve Board may raise interest rates.

In the meantime, our policies and our discussions must include more compassion for and attention to the plight of Ohioans. Go ahead and celebrate those who are creating a few new jobs in the region and the supposed brain gain. But only if  we simultaneously and more urgently call attention to and advocate for those who continue to suffer, and who have been long suffering. Every day more people in our community become unemployed; every day, more children fall into poverty. Things are far worse than they were ten years ago for the vast majority of those living in our region.

These stark and unconsoling numbers are harder to read — and less fun to share on Facebook — than the good news. But these are the fundamental facts we must attend to, immediately.

George Zeller is an Economic Research Analyst

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