Monday, June 16, 2014

Pittsburgh mythos revisted

The passing of Chuck Noll has brought a minor resurgence of the idea that the 1970s Steelers played through the worst of the economic miasma Pittsburgh endured with the contraction of the regional steel industry.  I've argued the inconsistency of that mythos with virtually all known data.  I'll put it another way, if indeed workers in Pittsburgh in the 1970s felt they were enduring the worst of times, they had yet to conceive of how bad things were going to get AFTER the Steelers won their 4th Super Bowl in January 1980.

Not that you would think that for a second.  PG:
"Their amazing success was much more than just a much-needed diversion from the hard economic times. It gave the city's people a chance to pull themselves up out of their despair". 

or Trib:
"He made a city undergoing seismic economic changes proud and confident, even as heavy industry abandoned the region"
Newsday:
"(Noll) lift the franchise out of some of its darkest days at the same time the city of Pittsburgh struggled to find its way out of a rough economic time,"

"Hard economic times" "Darkest days"  "Despair"  "Seismic economic changes" and abandonment.  WRONG decade.
If you still suffer from cognitive dissonance believing me, here is some basic data parsed a different way.  Here is total employment in the Pittsburgh region through both the 1970s and 1980s indexed to the employment level as of the first month of the decade.  So January 1970, or January 1980 both = 1.0 in each series.


So the bad times of Pittsburgh through the 1970s were characterized by increasing employment through most of the decade, hitting new all-time highs repeatedly late in the decade. That was matched by faster growing wage rates and even an expanding workforce across the region. In fact,  wages in Pittsburgh increased even faster in the 1970s than they did in the nation as a whole.  Average per capita income in Pittsburgh started the 1970s trailing the nation slightly, but finished well ahead of the nation. Or finally how about this logic...  none of the four Super Bowls were played at a time when the total employment in Pittsburgh was less than what it was at the beginning of the decade. None.

But maybe the total employment trend masks a drop in the number of manufacturing jobs in Pittsburgh, and the story could still hold. To be fair, it is true that manufacturing employment in Southwestern Pennsylvania declined between 1970 and 1979.  By my count a drop of -0.8% per the following miasmic trend....





6 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Their amazing success was much more than just a much-needed diversion from the hard economic times. It gave the city's people a chance to pull themselves up out of their despair".

Well - to be fair, people were reliving those 4 championships pretty much up to (and through 2000), including the really lean years of the 80s. Somehow - I don't think that's what the author meant and I agree with you. The 70s were tough, but the wolf finally came in the 80s.

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