Cleveland in Focus: A Profile from Census 2000

November 1, 2003

Executive Summary

Census 2000 underscores the many social, demographic, and economic challenges facing the City of Cleveland and its residents.

Between 1980 and 2000, Cleveland lost fully one-sixth of its population. Like other older cities in the nation’s “Rust Belt,” Cleveland’s metropolitan area also lost residents over this period, although it managed to grow modestly in the 1990s.

What little growth there was in the region occurred far from the core. The city’s downtown area grew, but nearly every other neighborhood in the city and its close-in suburbs lost residents. To be sure, Cleveland actually gained modest numbers of black, Hispanic, and Asian residents in the last decade. But at the same time it lost almost three times as many white residents. As a result, the number of married couples living in Cleveland dwindled, while households not traditionally associated with the suburbs—single persons and single parents—proliferated there. A similar evacuation of jobs has occurred, and today fewer than one-third of the region’s workers are employed in the City of Cleveland.

The demographic and economic impacts of decentralization in the Cleveland metro area are striking. Segregation levels between blacks and whites, and blacks and Hispanics, remain among the highest in the U.S. Cleveland ranks 96th out of the 100 largest cities in the share of adults who have a bachelor’s degree, and the educational attainment of each racial/ethnic group in Cleveland significantly lags that in other cities. Not coincidentally, the city’s unemployment rate is the second-highest among large U.S. cities, and median household income is the third-lowest. In the 1990s, income among Cleveland households did rise, but nearly half of all families with children still lived below or near the poverty line in 2000. With such low incomes, many of Cleveland’s families fail to benefit from the city’s relatively affordable rental and ownership opportunities. In many city neighborhoods today, a lack of market demand leaves senior citizens as the largest group of homeowners.

Along these lines and others, then, Cleveland in Focus: A Profile from Census 2000 concludes that:

  • The Cleveland metro area continued to decentralize in the 1990s amid slow growth region-wide. Between 1980 and 2000, the City of Cleveland lost 17 percent of its population, although the pace of decline slowed in the last decade. Meanwhile, the region’s suburbs grew modestly, but the locus of that growth occurred far from the core. In the 1990s, a few neighborhoods in downtown Cleveland gained residents, but population loss was widespread throughout the remainder of the city and most inner suburbs. The city lost households of all types: The number of married couples living in the city dropped by 16,000, and for every additional single-person household the city gained, the suburbs added more than 40. Today, only one in five residents of the Cleveland region lives in the central city, and less than one-third of the region’s workers are employed there.

  • Cleveland remains highly segregated and profits from little international immigration. The number of whites living in Cleveland plummeted in the 1990s, and modest gains in black, Hispanic, and Asian populations were not enough to compensate for these losses. The city’s foreign-born population grew by a mere 400 persons over the decade, signaling that while modest numbers of immigrants continued to arrive in Cleveland (9,300 in the 1990s), an equivalent number of earlier arrivals left the city for the suburbs or beyond. In addition, the metro area remains highly stratified along racial and ethnic lines, with blacks confined to the city’s east side and eastern suburbs, Hispanics clustered on the west side, and whites located in the downtown and southern/western suburbs.

  • Cleveland lacks a young, highly-educated population. During the 1990s, the number of 25-to-34 year-olds nationwide declined by 8 percent, due to the aging of the Baby Boom generation. In Cleveland, this age group shrank nearly three times as fast. Consequently, the share of adults with a college degree grew more slowly than elsewhere in the 1990s, and Cleveland now ranks 96th out of the 100 largest cities in college degree attainment. Efforts to retain students attending its own universities may help accelerate growth in educational attainment, but since Cleveland’s college-student population is one of the smallest among the Living Cities, strategies to increase educational access for existing residents may be needed. Unlike in many other cities, low educational attainment is not confined to Cleveland’s minority groups—whites, blacks, and Hispanics all have below-average rates of college completion.

  • Incomes grew in Cleveland during the 1990s, although the city remains home to a primarily low-wage workforce. As in other Midwestern cities, median household income grew at an above-average rate in Cleveland during the 1990s. However, the city’s median income still ranks 98th out of the 100 largest cities. Middle-income households declined over the decade, while the ranks of moderate-income “working poor” families grew. In fact, some 62 percent of the city’s households made do with incomes below $34,000 in 2000. Families with children were especially likely to earn low wages; nearly half had incomes below or near the federal poverty line.

  • Homeownership increased for some groups in Cleveland, but many families face difficulties paying for housing and moving toward homeownership. About half of Cleveland’s households own their own homes. That share is typical among the 23 Living Cities, but it remains low for a city with such a large stock of single-family homes. Homeownership rose for the city’s Hispanic households, 41 percent of whom now own. But black households in Cleveland did not share in these homeownership gains, and were likely impeded by their low incomes, which trail those for other racial/ethnic groups. Rents in Cleveland increased by almost 10 percent in the 1990s, but remain the lowest among the Living Cities—the median unit rents for only $465. Yet even so, 40,000 Cleveland renters still pay more than 30 percent of income on rent, suggesting that most earn too little to afford even a modestly-priced unit.

By presenting indicators like these on the following pages, Cleveland in Focus: A Profile from Census 2000 seeks to give readers a better sense of where Cleveland and its residents stand in relation to their peers, and how the 1990s shaped the cities, their neighborhoods, and the entire Cleveland region. Living Cities and the Brookings Institution Center on Urban and Metropolitan Policy hope that this information will prompt a fruitful dialogue among city and community leaders about the direction Cleveland should take in the coming decade.

Cleveland Data Book Series 1

Cleveland Data Book Series 2