The working class was “recycled” during the transition from an industrial to service-based economy in the sense that according to the book titled, The Next Shift that the layoffs of many blue-collar African-American males during the 1970’s and 1980’s, ironically created a window of opportunity for more African-American women to enter the workforce. To be specific, according to the reading, “The decline of manufacturing employment was accompanied by a steady increase of employment in service industries.” (Winant, 2021).
The economic, political and social consequences of this shift in the demographics of the workforce included the pushing of many working-class Americans back into a state of welfare dependence which according to the reading put great pressures on the institutions that operated these public services (Winant, 2021). To be specific, on page 12, the article says that, “Because the postwar welfare state had used industrial employment to disburse security to a population far beyond workers themselves, the crisis of industrial employment evolved into a crisis of reproduction: the population lost much of its means for securing the care and support it needed to survive.” (Winant, 2021). To say it another way, the loss of income caused by lack of employment caused there to be a lack of funds to actually support said social welfare programs. The article then goes on to explain how by 1983, Pennsylvania’s unemployment fund carried more debt than any other state (Winant, 2021). One could then argue that one of the reasons that many social programs during the era were so weak was due to the lack of adequate funding to them caused by the economic collapse of the steel industry. To further support this idea, on page 12 of the reading the author asserts that, “Many local governments drew as much as half their tax revenue from industrial property, so the idling of the factories was a fiscal catastrophe, causing sharp cutbacks in almost all basic services.” (Winant, 2021). Overall one should conclude that the main cause of the collapse of social support systems was due to the fact that much of their funding was highly dependent on high rates of employment within Pennsylvania.
This collapse of social services was only exacerbated by some poor decision making on the part of the federal government as in 1981 the federal government in its new budget, reduced funding for social programs by a massive 25 percent (Winant, 2021). At the same time the Reagan administration took an unrealistic approach to dealing with the problem as according to the reading, “For policymakers, it was attractive to imagine managing this misery by retraining workers. In his 1983 visit to the city, Reagan visited a local training center, describing it as “such an example of hope and effort and self-help.” Training, the president suggested, offered a permanent solution to economic displacement, in contrast to “the quick fix” of monetary policy.” (Winant, 2021). To put it simply, Reagan developed an assumption that people would be able to pick themselves up by their boot straps so to say; and as a result he believed that even without support, the people of Pennsylvania would be able to adapt to the situation. This of course was unrealistic as once again according to the reading, many people, especially older workers were unable to train on new technologies and even if retrained would be unlikely to gain new employment due to ageism against older applicants within many companies (Winant, 2021). As a result, “One survey of households in Duquesne stricken by job loss found that only 5 percent sought retraining.” (Winant, 2021). To put it simply, many former steel workers felt as though they had little chance of being hired outside of fields they were already skilled in.
- Winant, Gabriel. The Next Shift. Harvard University Press, 2021.