Deindustrialization in Pennsylvania

The steel industry boomed from 1940 to 1955. Deindustrialization caused this boom to hit a stark contrast from the 1970s to the 1980s. This deindustrialization caused an incredible about of unemployment. The working class faced mass unemployment. While employment opportunities decreased in industry, employment in the service industry increased incrementally. During this transition, the working class was being “recycled” from industrial work to service work. The healthcare industry is where most of the working class was “recycled.” The healthcare system grew because the steel industry suffered. 

One area hit hard by the reduction in industrial work was Pennsylvania. The recession in Pennsylvania started before and ended after the national recession. (Winant, 188) Most everyone was hit hard by this recession. Social consequences hit every age group. Young children faced uncertainty in education. Due to an increase in families eligible for Headstart programs, schools could not serve as many families as could take advantage of the program. Young adults were leaving the state because of seniority systems in the steel industry. Adults were struck, as seen by the unemployment numbers. Women and men stayed in unhappy marriages because of the financial benefits of marriage. Older adults were forced into early retirement. Their retirement benefits were often shared among their family members because younger family members could not serve them. Older people faced hardships in their availability for care. Assisted living care was bursting and had little availability; no one could assist them at home. Politically, the area saw interest from the outside; “For policymakers, it was attractive to imagine managing this misery by retraining workers” (191). Regan even “visited a local training center, describing it as “such an example of hope and effort and self-help.” (192) So, the area and its issues could be used for political gain. In the example of training centers, the policies didn’t work for the overwhelming issue. 

I think social welfare and government programs designed to protect citizens from economic risks and uncertainties were so meager because of the number of people these programs were trying to serve. Winant uses a statistic from Allegheny County to show the sheer increase of people the government was trying to serve: “In 1982, for example, 358,147 people received social service of some kind from Allegheny County, at a cost of $71.8 million. The next year, 451,103- one-third of the entire county population- received county social service, at the cost of $70.3 million.” (190) Allegheny County was trying to serve 100 thousand more people on a smaller budget. Try if it might a county can’t serve one-third of its population. There isn’t a government policy that could serve this unimaginable amount of citizens. Another quote from Winant that sums up the issue goes, “Unemployment compensation was designed for cyclical downturns, rather than permanent collapse of a century-old dominant sector of the labor market.” (193). The Pennsylvania economy was so predicated on the steel industry that any government action would have been an unbelievable miracle.

One thought on “Deindustrialization in Pennsylvania

  1. Hey Johanna, I like how you brought up a defense for the government, there truly was so many struggling and it can be difficult to help so many people on limited resources. I think it is definitely a lot easier to hate of the government for the lack of effective relief/help programs set in place during this time. I know because that what I had mentioned in my own post. I specifically brought up the point on how the state of Pennsylvania was somehow able to find $300million for prisons, yet this type of money was nowhere to be found at the start of the economic downfall to prevent all of these incarcerations.


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