“The inherent vice of capitalism is the unequal sharing of the blessings. The inherent blessing of socialism is the equal sharing of misery.” — Winston Churchill
There was a slogan fostered by the power company in Cleveland, Ohio, the city I grew up in, that it was the best location in the nation. There were billboards posted around the city proclaiming this boast and it was proudly proclaimed by newspapers and radio stations.
In many ways, with the exception of the weather, the power company’s boast was true. In 1962, when I left Cleveland for the sunny climate of California, the city was the ninth largest in the nation. Cleveland proper had a population of 700,000 and the greater area a population of over a million. The city had great industrial plants like Republic Steel, The Ford Engine Plant, and the Chevrolet Plant. Because of these giants there were thousands of small and medium-sized businesses supporting these giants with parts and services. Jobs were a plenty and wages were high. The Unions ruled.
The city had parks, great public libraries, one of the finest art museums in the nation and its own world-renown symphony orchestra. Most of the support for the arts and culture came from the east side and suburbs such as Shaker Heights and Cleveland Heights where the professional class lived. The western lakeside suburbs of Bay Village and Rocky River were also populated with the upper middle class. These communities had large homes on tree-lined streets and little crime.
To the south of the city were suburbs like Parma, Parma Heights, and Maple Heights. These were the suburbs of the middle class working folks, the people who worked in the steel mills and auto plants. These suburbs grew up after the end of WWII when the great housing boom swept the nation. Families, like ours, who had lived in rental houses in the Cleveland proper during the war were taking their savings and buying their own homes in the modest suburbs. My father bought such a home in Parma in 1948 for $10,500. It was a 1,000 square foot home including a partial unfinished room on the second floor. It had two bedrooms, a living room, kitchen, and one bathroom. The house had an unfinished yard and sat on a lot measuring 45 feet by 125 feet (5,625 square feet). It was my parents dream home in 1948.
My parents, like thousands of others, left the inner city for similar houses in the suburbs and the western edges of the city. The schools were good and crime was low. People worked at their jobs and in improving their properties. I know because I spent many hours as a 13-year old boy grading the yard, spreading top soil and planting a yard.
At the end of our street was a wood where I used to explore and hike. I would go to these dense woods to shoot my .22 caliber rifle and where I killed my first animal, a gopher.
I went to the Catholic School a few blocks from the house where I could walk or ride my bike to get there. I had a morning paper route covering three streets and over 100 customers. I rooted for the Browns and the Indians. Life was good in the greatest location in the nation.
Something else was happening in the greatest location nation in the nation. This something else was called “white flight”. During the war years Blacks from the south had relocated in northern cities like Cleveland, Detroit, and Gary, Indiana to work in the defense plants. After the war ended and the returning soldiers began taking the jobs they left these Black workers were being dismissed by the thousands. They did not go back to the south, but stayed in Cleveland an looked for jobs. Many did not find jobs, and the jobs they did find paid much less than their previous defense jobs. Many were turning to welfare.
With the flight of the whites to the suburbs the tax base in Cleveland began to decline, so did the property values and the condition of the houses as the once middle-class home owners left or died. These effects were slow to materialize, but they were taking place.
Buy the 1960’s, when I left for California, the effects of the white flight and the declining tax base were becoming very noticeable. Schools and services within the city were declining and the welfare population was growing. The city leaders, the Democrat Party, did not know what to do and kept pandering to the welfare class and unions to retain their power.
When new federal environmental regulations began affecting the industrial manufactures they began to close their doors and move rather than invest the millions in bringing their old facilities up to par. There was also another major factor that was entering the scene — competition from Japan and Europe. This competition mostly affected the steel, auto, and electronics industry. Cheaper, non-union, steel was being produced in Japan. This affected Republic Steel. Cars made in Japan and Germany were binging heated competition to the auto industry causing Ford and Chevrolet to produce less. This meant they would purchase less from the steel mills and their numerous suppliers. Electronics were no longer using tube, made in Cleveland; they were using transistors made in Japan. The whole model of Cleveland’s prosperity was falling apart. Less jobs, no tax base and increasing welfare were killing the best location in the nation.
I could go on and on with the economic, social, and cultural factors that were killing Cleveland and other Rust Belt cites, but I think you get it by now. The one thing that did remain constant in the best location in the nation, however, was the control of the Democrat Party.
Two weeks ago my brother and I spent four days in the Cleveland area to visit the Professional Football Hall of Fame in Canton, some relatives, and to visit the places where we lived and some old haunts. The trip was fun and informative. Places we once thought of as farm land, like Medina, were now the new suburbs. The suburbs where we grew up in looked pretty much the same with the exception of the addition of a few Interstates and the addition of numerous national big box stores. The houses looked the same, especially the 63-year old house in Parma, my parents dream home. There still some of the same stores like the smoke shop where my Dad bought his pipe tobacco. Of course other things had changed. There were new national franchise restaurants and stores. Some streets had been widened and my old first high school, Parma Scahff, had been turned into a charter school. The high school I graduated from, Parma Senior High, was triple the size it was in 1954 and the football stadium was vastly larger and the field covered with artificial turf. All of these things were products of a natural progression of time, as they are all across the nation.
On the other hand Cleveland proper had gone the opposite direction. There were no big box stores or franchise restaurants in the section of the city where I lived during WWII. Streets and other infrastructure had gone to hell. Schools looked like prisons surrounded with concertina wire. Sections that were once considered middle class were now depressed areas of the welfare class. The house where we lived during the war was gone and was marked by a vacant lot.
This was evident as we drove east along Kinsman Road from East 55th to the once upper class Shaker Heights. On almost every corner there was an abandoned, boarded up business, a business that once served the community and employed someone. There were dilapidated and abandoned houses and public housing projects. It resembled a third world country more that the greatest location in the nation — all of this after billions in federal and state assistance money.
Today Cleveland, a city that once had a good public school system, has a graduation rate of less that 50%. The inner city crime rate, especially drug related, is through the roof. The official unemployment rate is around 16%, but most experts believe it is closer to 26% and the rate among Black youth is close to 50%. All of this while the Democrat Party and the unions still control the city.
Another thing we noticed were the numerous professionally made lawn signs urging people to vote no on Issue 2, a proposition that would repeal the law passed by the Ohio Legislature requiring unionized civil service workers to make contributions to their pensions and health care programs. The proposition passed with 63% of the vote. This is not surprising as there are 350,000 state government workers in Ohio. If use a factor of 4 for family members you come up with 1.4 million NO votes. The deck was stacked from the get go. No Ohio will join California in a state spiraling into bankruptcy due to government workers and teacher’s union pension and health care liabilities.
On the same day Issue 2 went down, Ohio voters resoundingly voted for Issue 3, which was the latest strike by a state against the Affordable Care Act, aka ObamaCare, and its requirement that everyone carry health insurance or pay a penalty for not doing so. The measure, which won by a margin of 2-to-1 statewide, is an amendment to the state constitution that will “preserve the freedom of Ohioans to choose their health care and health care coverage. You might call this a dichotomy, or even voter schizophrenia.
Our four days in the Cleveland area were fun and informative. Things we remembered as large were now small. Things we remembered as rural were now suburbs. And things were remembered as declining were now disaster zones. Cleveland, the city that was once considered the best location in the nation, is no longer so. It is an example of what can happen to a once thriving city when one party rule, The Democrat Party, retains power for over 60 years.