Monday, September 02, 2013

1979 all over again

Obligatory read of the day from the New York Times: Pittsburgh's Stirring Leap From the Abyss

It's a great read, but take a look again at the conflicted economic history. The story says:
Some 60,000 people, Tekulve said, enough to fill Three Rivers Stadium, had gathered to greet their heroes at 3 a.m. The steel industry was in steep decline, but the Pirates had joined the Steelers atop the sports world. People were proud.  (emphasis added)
The steel industry was in steep decline? Really? This was the topic yesterday here, but consider the story in the Trib yesterday that said 1979 was the peak of the region's manufacturing boom. Boom? Steep decline? How can both be right? I really think both versions are wrong.

The date for Pirates return to the city must have been the early morning of October 18, 1979. First people remembered cheering the Steelers through 4 Superbowl years through the worst of the economic miasma only to happen a decade later, and now the same for the Pirates? Average unemployment in the Pittsburgh region through the first 9 months of 1979 was 6.1%; lower than the annual average over the previous 4 years, and lower than the unemployment rate in the region today with all of its positive PR buzz of late.

So again, the story was neither boom, and certainly no bust.  Manufacturing employment in the Pittsburgh region averaged 288K in 1979, barely a measurement error difference from 290K manufacturing jobs in the region in 1971. In fact, in August of 1979 the 7-county Pittsburgh region had just recorded a new all-time peak employment of 1,099,700... more than ever before in the past. Those cheering fans? Not only were there more folks employed here in the region, but in 1979 we reached a peak for how much higher than the national average local wages were. They were both employed and well paid. Yet it just does not fit the narrative that seems to so fit the mythos of the rabid unemployed fans.  It's exactly the opposite of the story that keeps getting repeated.

1980 and forward was a different story. With the exception of a one month spike of jobs in March 1981, the region would take 13 years to reach the same employment peak. It was October 1992 when the Pittsburgh region reached the same employment peak it had reached in 1979.  Yes, ironically the very month of the slide.

But who cares... we are now within innings of 0.500. 


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