Week 11: Yet Another of America’s Struggle Periods

Gabriel Winant’s article “Enduring Disaster” from 2021, examines the cutbacks, lay-offs, and deep struggles the Pennsylvania population dealt with during the 1970s. There had been many towns and cities, such as Pittsburg, where the population of working-class men heavily relied on large production-based jobs such as steel production. Winant’s article starts by telling us a story of siblings Earline and Lou Berry. They had been born in such a heavily industrialized time that younger brother Lou felt it his “birthright” to work in their town’s steel company (179). As we read on, we learn that many economically vital companies, such as US Steel’s Edgar Thomas Works, would ultimately close down. But before they would shut down, they would lay many people off, starting with African American workers at proportionally higher rates.

Many families during these times relied on mothers to work inside the home and father outside. Having many married men, also single men, laid off would severely alter the home as well as social balance.

Although many there had been job training programs such as CETA, and later on the Job Training Partnership Act, they were programs which required payment offered to unemployed peoples. Many families were struggling to keep their basic needs they didn’t have extra money to enroll in programs that could possibly benefit them. With that, a good number of people didn’t want to enroll because they didn’t think it would actually help. Winant included an account from a steel-worker’s wife saying that businesses don’t want to hire a 50-year-old. And many of the men had only worked in these blue-collar jobs all their lives, they only had that skill set.

Although men couldn’t find job, women somehow could. Many women, especially Black women, joined the health field. Either working in retirement/nursing homes, in hospitals as assistants, cooks, housekeepers, etc. But then at the same time, those type of care giving/sanitary jobs were predominantly taken up by these women before the economic crisis. Women and their “roles” had been stretched out more because they had to care for the kids, the home, their husbands (for a longer amount of time now) and now work outside of the home.  While the government was providing some money and relief services for struggling families, it was not enough support to keep up with this economic downfall.

Later in the article Winant brings up incarceration. According to his research, incarceration rates grew as significantly as the hardships did. With people out of work, not able to get proper training, getting evicted from homes, not able to pay for schooling, increased alcohol consumption paired with higher rates of domestic abuse, and not sufficient government help, it only make sense that people would look for other outlets. What I find most outrageous from Winant’s “The Multiplication of Poverty” article section, is that part that the mentioned that incarceration rates were so high (mostly from misremembers from unemployed people) that the state was able to scrape up 300 MILLLION dollars to use towards prison construction in the 80s (194).

The government was so tedious to help out the countess struggling families with, yet so quick to round up and incarcerate all the people who were led to commit these misdemeanors. Maybe if they would have spared a few million that they suddenly found to put more relief programs and structures in place, the incarcerations rates wouldn’t have been so damn high.

I don’t know why the government/private businesses had been/are so stingy. If you have the money to help others, why not do it? Probably because they weren’t going or aren’t going through it themselves. Maybe they believe that if they help too much they’ll end up in the same spot.

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