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How Cleveland’s declining middle class compares to the U.S.

Every week, George Zeller sits amid knee-high stacks of paper, combing through databases and poring over spreadsheets in his Cleveland, Ohio, house, while he tracks his home state’s economic decline.

For three decades, Zeller, a 66-year-old economic research analyst and independent consultant, has tracked unemployment rates, job growth and how much pay Ohioans earn. He will tell you that for the past 42 months, U.S. job growth has outpaced Ohio’s. He also will let you know that Cleveland’s touted resurgence is “largely false propaganda. While there is growth, that growth is too slow to get all of the previously laid-off workers back to work.”

And he’ll send you the spreadsheets to prove his argument.

With the Republican National Convention under way nearly seven miles from his front door, Zeller says he does not think anything will improve for his city or state after the November 8 general election.

“There’s an awful lot of people in financial difficulty here in Ohio,” he said. “There’s a massive level of human suffering. We need to get that growth rate to improve.”

But tax cuts are making matters worse and slowing down job growth, he said.

Between 2000 and 2014, Cleveland’s middle class has declined at a greater rate than the rest of the country, due in part to the city’s reliance on manufacturing, according to a Pew Research Center report.

Source: Pew Research Center Analysis of Census Bureau Data
Source: Pew Research Center Analysis of Census Bureau Data

And on average, households across the Cleveland area lost nearly $11,000 in income during the same period of time.

Nationwide, the share of Americans who make up the middle class fell from 55 percent to 51 percent since 2000.

Compared to other Ohio cities hard-hit after the 2001 and 2008 recessions, Cleveland is considered “middle of the pack,” said Rakesh Kochhar, an associate director for research at the Pew Research Center and economist. That’s based on his analysis of data from the Census Bureau and the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

For example, Springfield, Ohio, was one of the top 10 worst-hit cities nationwide when Kochhar examined the shift from upper- and middle-income households to lower-income households.

In many respects, Kochhar says the story of Cleveland’s shrinking middle class “resembles the nation.”