Steel is gone, and it’s not coming back

Youngstown, OH – Warren, OH, 8.8 miles

A generation has passed since steel manufacturing jobs left the region. Many living in western Pennsylvania, Ohio and Indiana can remember family members working in the steel mills or perhaps worked there themselves. At it’s peak in the 1940s more than half a million people worked in the industry. That number was cut nearly in half in the 1970s. And, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, by 2006 the steel industry provided just 154,000 wage and salary jobs in the United States.

It is sad to see a once thriving region living in an extended state of decay and disrepair. Unemployment rates are high; morale and hope are low. In August 2009 the unemployment rates were at 9.9 percent in Indiana, 10.8 percent for Ohio, and 8.6 percent for Pennsylvania according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

If cities like Youngstown, and others once dominated by steel manufacturing, want to thrive again, they must turn to smaller businesses and focus on remaking their economies with creativity, community, and the hard work and ingenuity that are hallmarks of the Rust Belt. Similarly, they should focus on the successes found in worker-owned cooperatives.

As I walked through Youngstown I noticed plenty of small businesses thriving. But equally I noticed many long abandoned buildings. The time for mourning lost jobs and lost industry is over. Some four decades have passed since steel reigned supreme. The Rust Belt needs to accept reality: jobs in the steel industry are gone and are not coming back. It is time to adapt and rebuild.

–Jennifer E. Cooper