Democrats visiting Cuyahoga County, Ohio, can usually count on a friendly reception in this party stronghold. President Barack Obama, who arrived today, may sense a chill.
Even loyal Democrats say they’re weary of Washington’s inability to ease unemployment and a housing emergency so severe that a top Federal Reserve official last week referred to Cleveland as “the epicenter of the foreclosure crisis.”
While many remain supportive of Obama, who got 68.5 percent of the county vote in 2008, they are angry at the Democratic- controlled Congress as well as state officials. That means trouble for Democrats fighting to keep control of the U.S. House, Senate and statehouses.
“It’s just a circus,” said Linda Powers, a 54-year-old resident of Shaker Heights, ticking off a list of grievances against Congress, from a lack of assistance to manufacturers to the party’s support for gay rights. “They act like children.”
Obama, making his 10th visit to Ohio, said today he recognizes that the recovery has been “painfully slow” and called on Congress to enact measures to cut taxes for businesses and middle-income Americans while letting rates rise for the wealthiest taxpayers.
“People are frustrated and angry and anxious about the future,” he said at Cuyahoga Community College West Campus in Parma, outside Cleveland. “I understand that.”
Rebuilding the Roads
Obama is also asking Congress to take up proposals to spend $50 billion to rebuild the U.S. transportation infrastructure, permanently extend a research and development tax credit and let businesses deduct the full cost of capital investments in the year the expenditures are made, instead of writing them off over periods of as long as 20 years.
In coming to Ohio, Obama used the same stage as U.S. Representative John Boehner, the top Republican in the House, who last month visited the City Club of Cleveland to call on the president to fire his economic team.
Still, the president’s plans may not come soon enough for Cuyahoga County and Cleveland, its largest city, whose woes predate the nation’s economic slowdown.
The county’s population shrank by 7 percent between 2001 and 2009, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland. During the same period, private employment fell by more than 14 percent, Sandra Pianalto, president of the Cleveland Fed, told an audience in Washington on Sept. 2.
Vacant properties in Cleveland sit empty an average of 954 days, up from 114 in 2006, Pianalto said.
“Ohio’s problems are more entrenched because they are tied to structural weaknesses and not just cyclical weaknesses in the state’s economy,” she said. “The housing and foreclosure crisis has made this already bad problem much, much worse.”
The problems have extended to the local government.
The Cuyahoga County government, one of the largest employers in northeast Ohio, shed more than 10 percent of its workforce between the end of June 2009 and the end of June 2010, according to Crain’s Cleveland Business.
An FBI corruption probe of officials in Cuyahoga County prompted voters to disband the old government last year. Yesterday, residents went to the polls to choose nominees for county executive and the 11-member county council.
Vestige of Industry
While government has partially picked up the slack from jobs lost in manufacturing, factories still spew smoke along the Cuyahoga River, a vestige of the city’s old industrial prowess.
“Twenty years ago, you could get all the overtime you wanted,” said Arthur Walton, 79, a lifelong resident of Cleveland. “Now, you’d be hard-pressed to get 40 hours.”
These days, the Cleveland Clinic, with its sprawling campus of modern glass buildings, has become the engine of the city’s economy. The hospital chain employs 37,800 people in Ohio, according to a tally published by the state government in 2009. The clinic also attracts funding for biomedical research.
Area residents argue that they still need the federal government to help, saying they want Congress to spend more money on education and job training.
Andre Morrison, 56, of Shaker Heights, who supports Obama, said the president and congressional Democrats spent too much time working on health-care legislation.
“I still don’t see enough emphasis on the economy,” he said.
Ida Love, 54, of Cleveland Heights, spent almost three decades as a case worker with the county government. She took a buyout last year, fearing she would be fired along with many of her longtime colleagues whose seniority made them more expensive to employ. She isn’t sure her son should move back after he graduates from Texas Christian University in Fort Worth.
“We’re scared that he’s going to come back and not find anything,” Love said. “We just don’t want him to get disappointed.”