The beginning of the Rust Belt

Throughout the 1970s the United States economy went through a modernization and restructure of the current system as well as a restructure of the working class of the United States. In his article “The Enduring Disaster,” Gabriel Winant discusses the causes and effects of the changing economy of the United States. He argues that the working class was “recycled” from an industrial economy to a service based economy through a process called “Precarization.” This involved the degrading of working conditions in factories along with fading job security and less rights for the working class. This process allowed for a transition of the working class from the manufacturing industry of America to the low income service based industry. To survive in this new economy, workers had to work multiple jobs for longer hours and fewer pay. Winant argued this process of precarization had been facilitated by neoliberal economic policies that prioritize free-market principles over social protections for workers. These policies had weakened labor protections, dismantled unions, and encouraged the growth of the gig economy, which offers few protections to workers.

Pennsylvania was one of the states that suffered the most under this change, as most of Americas industry was located within the state along with neighboring Ohio and New York. Families in Pennsylvania felt that they were suffering under disenfranchisement, which was the feeling of betrayal that these families felt as they began to receive lower wages. They felt as if they were abandoned by the government and economy. This also created polarization between communities, urban and rural, white and non white. This would create a class divide that would affect the labor unions, who lost members and in turn lost power in government. These increased struggles led to an increase in poverty and crime. This crime was also related to the increased use of drugs and other substances. Overall the working classes of these so called “Rust Belt” states suffered great hardships in the shifting economy. Wanat’s article highlights the long-term consequences of deindustrialization on Pennsylvania, including economic decline, political polarization, and social dislocation.

For these hardships the United States government would create social welfare programs that would attempt to quell the increasing poverty in the American working class. These programs failed due to many reasons. One was that they were very narrow and were not focused on giving money to those in need, rather to get them up on their feet and working again, however due to the changing economy this method would not work. These programs were also determined based on income and assets, this meant that those in less of need for these programs would not receive them and end up in poverty. These programs have always been underfunded as well. If the government were to print out more money for these programs it would lead to inflation. Overall, I believe that these programs failed due to these reasons, mainly the fact that these programs were designed to work in an economy with a strong working class, with the shift from factories to service based jobs, these social welfare programs could not work the way they were intended to.

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