Deindustrialization: The Working Class Can Never Catch a Break

The 1970s and 1980s saw a transformation from an industrial fueled economy to a period of deindustrialization where the working class shifted to more service-oriented occupations. This period of deindustrialization created economic, political, and social issues for communities that were dependent on industrial manufacturing jobs such as the steel industry in Pennsylvania. In the essay, Winant states that from 1975 to 1985, Pennsylvania experienced the loss of “150,000 manufacturing jobs” (180).

The deindustrialization of this period had an enormous effect on the economic standing of communities and individuals. As unemployed industrial workers could no longer depend on work, they started to depend on family and state support to survive (189). Winant writes that in 1983, “Pennsylvania’s unemployment fund nonetheless carried more debt than that of any other state in the country” (189). During this period, the need for social services expanded and as many became dependent on them, the budget stayed the same. Winant writes that Allegheny County in Pennsylvania “served nearly 100,000 additional people on the same budget” (190). With low employment and little support from the state, deindustrialization left thousands without a safety net.

In turn, the economic tightness of deindustrialization also caused political consequences. Winant writes that “a weakening economy drove both greater demand for support and, especially in the context of rising political conservatism at the state and national levels” (189). In one example, Winant explains that “a new radicalism grew up in the Steel Valley” (190). When Ronald Reagan visited Pittsburgh in 1983, many members of the working class came together to protest Reagan and demanded “an end to cutbacks to social services, accusing Reagan of ‘turning his back” (190). While the rise in conservatism in this period saw budget cuts in areas of social services, steel communities were dependent on these programs.

As Winant explains, deindustrialization had a large impact on gender in the labor market during this period. He writes that while deindustrialization left many men unemployed, it “also created both opportunity and compulsion for women to enter the labor market…The market in men’s labor contracted sharply, and the market in women’s labor expanded” (180). Many women took up service jobs that included cooking and serving food or working in a medical setting.

As well as gender, another social consequence of deindustrialization dealt with generational relationships. Winant writes that “given steel’s seniority-based structure of security, the downturn meted out harsh punishment on the young” (194). With the youth in an economic crisis, many of them turned to their elderly relatives who dug into their savings to help them (197). This meant that economic struggles were hitting all demographics and produced a problem for elderly care that ramped up dependency on state programs.

            In this period where social welfare was needed the most, the state responded poorly by not expanding these programs. From my understanding, the “meager”ness was mostly due to the political atmosphere at the time. The 1980s and Reagan’s administration marked a period of growing conservatism in the United States, and I think this probably played a large role in the rigidness of support and welfare for those in need. One example Winant gives of this is Nixon’s vetoing of a bill that would have established a national daycare program. The socially and physically conservative politics of this time greatly diminished the support that areas of deindustrialization needed.

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