Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Blame Game: Braddock

National Journal online has a focus on the failure that is Braddock. See: The Left-Behinds, subtitled: How three decades of flawed economic thinking have helped to create record numbers of long-term unemployed and undermine America’s middle class.

The whole meme of the piece comes down to this quote:

Braddock’s plight came from the structural decline of a major manufacturing industry
So again, this rosy vision that all was working in Braddock before steel decided to pick up and move away or shut down. 

NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO.  It just isn't true.  We've been through this before. The demographic and economic declines in  Braddock, as with those in neighboring Duquesne, or Rankin, or Homestead all started long before the decline in local manufacturing employment or wages, nor did that decline accelerate in the last 3 decades that the National Journal article focuses on.  Can't even say it is a confusion of causation vs. causality; look at most any time series on economic conditions in Braddock and there isn't even any spurious decline that started in the early 1980's. It's all weird revisionism. Paleo beer goggles of a happier past that really existed long long before anyone really remembers.

I wonder how many current residents of Braddock today are the "long term unemployed" that are vestiges of an industrial past?  Those workers left Braddock long ago, and took with them their families most all before the bulk of the jobs went away. The article says Braddock is filled with "their children and grandchildren. These are the second and third generations of a lost tribe.".  Really?  Even the mayor is not the 2nd or 3rd generation of a local steelworker; few of the very few remaining working age residents are either.

Then there is this quote:

U.S. Steel’s Edgar Thomson Steel Works chugs on, as it has since 1875, but it’s a sprawling corrugated-metal relic of its former self. Its parking lot is almost empty at midday, and it employs several hundred workers rather than the more than 10,000 who labored here at its peak.

You know..  Edgar Thompson has been pretty busy even during the depth of the recession.  In fact US Steel brought work to Edgar Thompson from other plants because I have to believe it was the best business choice for them to do that.  They even got in trouble with the Canadian government for first choosing to shut down it's Hamilton, Ontario plant and not take work away from E.T..  Here is the big point though.. those several hundred workers at Edgar Thompson probably make as much steel as did thousands of their predecessors.  That is called the increasing productivity which is pretty much a necessary condition for manufacturing competitiveness in the world.  Yet, somehow that is bad?  It has nothing to do with the current conditions of the residents of Braddock mind you, but still.

Now of course maybe I am being harsh and the story isn't really about Braddock more than the metaphor it shows for the apocryphal Rust Belt or maybe the Pittsburgh region collectively.  Of course there is the post earlier today where I pointed out that employment in the Pittsburgh region is pretty much at an all time high as of last month. All time.  Not mentioned anywhere.

All that being said. Make no mistake we have failed Braddock.  We failed it decades ago. Continue to fail it, and there really seems to be no reason to think we will not continue to fail it for a long time to come.  But as long as we believe the mythos of what went wrong, it is pretty much impossible to ever hope anything will ever get any better.


Anonymous DBR96A said...

Braddock's population began to decline because nobody wanted to live near all the residual shit produced by the steel mills, so anybody with the means to get out did.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011 9:18:00 AM  
Anonymous BrianTH said...

Yep--motorized transportation for the masses was the real beginning of the end for the "mill towns".

Which does not undermine Chris's point--we've never seriously addressed the issues raised by this dynamic in places like Braddock, or the Mon Valley in general. And no, the MFE doesn't count (it would just double-down on the same destructive dynamic).

Wednesday, November 23, 2011 12:53:00 PM  
Anonymous MH said...

Speaking of failing, Harrisburg's bankruptcy petition was denied right before a long weekend.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011 5:05:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Also,right or wrong significant amounts of public housing were concentrated in Braddock (Talbot Towers), Rankin, Duquesne, and other heavy industrial towns in Allegheny County like Clairton and McKees Rocks. One more reason why middle class folks moved to the 'burbs.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011 9:50:00 PM  
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