Mon, Sep 18, 2017 |
By John Schroeder
Salena Zito’s latest Rust Belt portrait, in this case of the host’s home territory, is quite poignant. It describes the day the steel plants started closing and the aftermath:
The events of Black Monday forever changed not only the Steel Valley, but her people and eventually American culture and politics. Just last year the reverberations were felt in the presidential election when many hard-core Democrats from this area broke from their party to vote for Donald Trump, a Republican who promised to bring jobs back to the Heartland.
Even today, after the election, the Washington establishment still hasn’t processed or properly dissected its effects. Economic experts predicted that the service industry would be the employment of the future. Steel workers were retrained to fill jobs in that sector, which was expected to sustain the middle class in the same way that manufacturing did.
It did not. According to a study done by the Midwest Center for Research the average salary of a steel worker in the late 1970s was $24,772.80. Today, according to the most recent Bureau of Labor statistics, the medium household income in the Mahoning Valley is $24,133.
There was also a push for Americans to be more mobile. Lose your job in Youngstown? Fine, move to Raleigh or Texas. No one calculated that the tight-knit people of Youngstown didn’t want to leave their town.
They liked Youngstown. To Washington and New York that seemed odd.
When I read this story I had two visceral reactions. On the one hand I too am from the Rust Belt, though in my case I come from the lovely state of Indiana, not the host’s lesser Ohio. My first “real, serious” job post-college was at a consumer electronics factory. When I worked there it employed 2500 people – larger than the town my father grew up in. At its height in WWII the factory employed nearly 15,000 and built the then super-secret radar sets for the military. When I worked there we built television sets, and not just any television. At the time it was the proudest brand name in consumer electronics – RCA. There are now several generations that have never heard of it. The factory is as long gone as the company. Less than a mile away the once monstrous Western Electric plant, employing 10,000 even in my day, now sits on the near east side of Indianapolis as a massive presence too big for anybody to use any more and too expensive to demolish.
There was a pride working in such places….