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Recession in the heartland of America
December 17, 2009 11:06 AM   Subscribe

The recession is hitting Ohio's former steel towns hard. As other areas of the country start to revive, the recession's full force is still on display here. Since January 2008, another 10,000 manufacturing jobs have been lost, according to recent Ohio employment figures. "There were other places that were dirtier, but you didn't get shocked every 15 minutes," Tomlin says with resignation. "This is what people around here without union jobs have to do to survive."
posted by VikingSword (56 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

 
This particular part of the country has been in economic decline for decades. I'm not sure exactly how this qualifies as news. "Bad economy gets worse" isn't exactly a surprising headline.
posted by dortmunder at 11:26 AM on December 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


Thank you for posting this. I wanted to, but wasn't sure I could since I have such a strong link to it - I am from Warren, and the author of the piece is (I think) a friend of a dear friend of mine.

Things are really this bad in northeastern Ohio. I'm going back there in exactly one week for Christmas. I'm never sure how to feel when I return.

Here is the letter I wrote to Anne Hull, the reporter who wrote this story.
As a native of Cortland, OH - what I guess could be rightly called a suburb of Warren - I want to thank you, so much, for writing your story about the city I grew up in and left just a few years ago. My parents and my extended family still live in Cortland, graduates of Youngstown State all, shoveling their driveways each winter and wondering if things are ever going to get any better. I live in Washington, DC now, but with Christmas approaching and my ticket back home booked, it was a bittersweet feeling to be able to share with my friends and coworkers a little bit about a city as much a part of me as my bones.

Thank you for writing about "'The Deer Hunter' with an Olive Garden" (by far the best analogy I've ever heard about Northeastern Ohio) and for treating the men and women who live there with dignity. It is easy to look at the residents of Warren and denigrate them - to call them poor, foolish, unable to move on - but I am deeply grateful you found in them what I have always needed to find: their strength, their loyalty, their fierceness, their pride.

Happy holidays and best wishes,
(harperpitt)
posted by harperpitt at 11:29 AM on December 17, 2009 [8 favorites]


This particular part of the country has been in economic decline for decades. I'm not sure exactly how this qualifies as news. "Bad economy gets worse" isn't exactly a surprising headline.

Well, an FPP doesn't have an obligation to be "news", but the story here is that the recession which has hit the entire country - indeed the entire world - and is seen by many economists as showing signs of ending is only deepening in this region. A cruel twist of fate, that those that have suffered the most are not seeing the relief first, indeed this recession may be the final nail in the coffin for the economy in many parts of the country.

To me, what was striking wasn't the decline as such, but the human story, especially the vets who come back to no jobs and no prospects. I found it quite moving, and when I read the news about how the economy is "recovering", and various politicians, including Obama make a big deal of that, I think of those for whom there is no recovery. This is the story.

And harperpitt, you are more than welcome.
posted by VikingSword at 11:39 AM on December 17, 2009 [2 favorites]


And they still hate unions, don't they? Is this area one of the Republican strongholds?
posted by phliar at 11:39 AM on December 17, 2009 [3 favorites]


This article at least tries to answer the question I always have; Why stay?

Her parents still live a block away. If outsiders wonder why she has stayed in a Rust Belt city on the endangered list, the answers are all around her.

The jobs aren't coming back, the kids who left aren't coming back. Only the older retirees on fixed income can afford to stay. It seems like the natural conclusion is that a few more years or un- or underemployment and she will be forced to actually live with her parents.
posted by 2bucksplus at 11:40 AM on December 17, 2009


At what point do these towns stop being "former steel towns"? They've been "former" steel towns for 20+ years.

Oh, I see...

Since the once-booming Rust Belt began hemorrhaging manufacturing jobs thirty years ago, Northeast Ohio towns like Warren and Youngstown have struggled to keep apace.

Sorry, 30+ years.

In Canada all the people in this situation seem to be moving to Alberta.

Anyway, the hand may be invisible but you can still see the pieces get moved around. Especially the pawns.
posted by GuyZero at 11:45 AM on December 17, 2009 [2 favorites]


It's a mixed picture - there's a guy quoted, who obviously thinks the unions are a good thing (I quoted him in the text of the FPP). But yes, the Republicans are not weak here.

I alluded to this before, but I think this represents a failure by the Democrats. This is the natural Democratic constituency. They should not have reasons to vote against their own economic interests, a la "what's the matter with Kansas". Why are the Democrats not active and not shouting from the rooftops, instead allowing the debate to be always framed by Republicans? Perhaps because the Democrats have always shied away from the issues of class and class conflict. And that has consequences - in politics, and more importantly, in the lives of people. We need to not be afraid of the truth, wherever it may lead us, and we must speak the truth - but by and large, the Democratic establishment cannot. The working classes of America need representation, and Democrats are failing them, so they turn to the demagogues, the Republicans.
posted by VikingSword at 11:46 AM on December 17, 2009 [8 favorites]


Pittsburgh was in the tank for a while, too... re-investment into incubating a wide range of new industries - biomedical, IT, high-tech engineering - is what pulled them out. Over-reliance on one industry strikes me as being suicidal in this day and age.

Altho when you have three industries all collapse at the same time - Banking, jewelry manufacturing and commercial fishing - you have Rhode Island, which is seeing Detroit-levels of unemployment, despite having a diversified economy. We're boned until we re-make ourselves into "Boston South" in terms of investment into infrastructure to attract engineering, biomedical and IT start-ups looking for a cheaper alternative to the 128 corridor.
posted by Slap*Happy at 11:46 AM on December 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


I was born in Warren, and grew up all over that area, though I now live most of a continent away. The people you meet in this story, they did everything they were supposed to do; they worked hard, lived within their means (at least the ones I grew up with did), took care of their families and the community, and were plain old decent folks. It may sound like an idealized cliche, but it's the truth. Yeah, the economy has been going downhill from the heyday of the mills, but this latest recession might truly be the death of the communities that make up the backbone of this country, and of my childhood. This article broke my heart.

My father and his wife still live there, and are retirees from one of the big companies that have gone bankrupt/are on the verge of closing. My dad worked for that company for 30+ years, and is now completely freaking out about what is happening to his pension and health benefits. All because these companies are being allowed to "divest" (nice word for renege on) themselves of commitments they made to employees and retirees who worked their asses off their entire adult lives. My dad busted his body working for them, relying on the promises the company (and the union - which he does NOT hate, though I think he feels pretty betrayed by it at this point - he was active in the union for years; most everyone in those plants was a union member, and proud of it) made to him about what he'd get for doing it. And now he's working two part-time jobs, one of them far too physical for his health, so that they can keep their house and live some semblance of a decent life down the road.

That's the story I'd like to see The WaPo publish - the story about how companies can walk away from their commitments and contracts when they are no longer financially beneficial to the company and stockholders, while screwing the men and women you read about in this story. Somehow, though, I doubt we'll see it, which makes me exceedingly bitter.
posted by Lulu's Pink Converse at 11:46 AM on December 17, 2009 [23 favorites]


And they still hate unions, don't they? Is this area one of the Republican strongholds?

Nooooooooo - people would sooner lose a leg than lose their Union membership (and its $5 prescription co-pay). This is Jim Traficant's old district and almost everyone there is Catholic, blue-collar, and votes Democratic.
posted by harperpitt at 11:47 AM on December 17, 2009


And they still hate unions, don't they? Is this area one of the Republican strongholds?

No:

2000 — 59.9% Gore, 36% Bush
2004 — 61.6% Kerry, 37.9% Bush
2008 — 59.8% Obama, 37.4% McCain
posted by enn at 11:48 AM on December 17, 2009 [4 favorites]


People stay, at least from what I've seen, for a couple reasons. First, it's the only thing they've ever known, and possibly all their parents have known since coming over from whatever Old Country they left in the 30s and 40s. And second, their property values are so damned low that they literally cannot afford to go anywhere else.

When you paid $38,000 for your four-bedroom house and today it's only worth $33,000, and you're struggling with $10,000 worth of credit card debt, where are you going to move?
posted by harperpitt at 11:52 AM on December 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


This particular part of the country has been in economic decline for decades. I'm not sure exactly how this qualifies as news. "Bad economy gets worse" isn't exactly a surprising headline.

Yes, well, "we no longer have the manufacturing capability to support our nation if we need to" damn well ought to be. This isn't just a part of the country that has been in economic decline for decades, it's the part of the country which actually drives the economy -- sorry, but you cannot have a sustainable economy in which people make lattes for people who lend money to people who sell mortgages to people who make software for people who make lattes.

There is very little "there" there anymore, and we are getting closer and closer to finding that out. No amount of "new industry" will stave off the simple truth: we cannot make things without steel, and we cannot buy cheap steel from overseas forever, especially if all our engineers move overseas in the meantime...
posted by vorfeed at 11:52 AM on December 17, 2009 [11 favorites]


That's the story I'd like to see The WaPo publish - the story about how companies can walk away from their commitments and contracts when they are no longer financially beneficial to the company and stockholders, while screwing the men and women you read about in this story. Somehow, though, I doubt we'll see it, which makes me exceedingly bitter.

Every time I look at my 401k and think what a pain it is to manage it myself, to set aside that money, to watch it go up and down with the vicissitudes of the economy and think how nice it would be to have someone else manage a nice pension for me... then I see this and remember why companies don't offer pensions any more. Because no human has the willpower to leave that much money untouched.
posted by GuyZero at 11:52 AM on December 17, 2009


And they still hate unions, don't they?

Who is "they"?

Is this area one of the Republican strongholds?

No , No, and No.
posted by Herodios at 11:52 AM on December 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


Lulu's Pink Converse:
Yeah, people who have had their employers renege on their obligations, should be able to renege on their obligations to their credit card and mortgage company. Fair's fair right?
posted by wuwei at 12:02 PM on December 17, 2009


Ohio Political Geography, by bitter-girl (a native):

Northeast Ohio (Cleveland out to the PA border) is heavily Democratic. Franklin County (Columbus) trends blue on the electoral maps. Athens County in the SW corner of the state is one big blue dot blue because of Ohio University, but surrounded by a sea of red. NW Ohio is mixed but more conservative than NE Ohio.

SW Ohio and especially Cincinnati is a Republican stronghold and is represented by a godforsaken Bachman-esque hellbeast named Jean Schmidt.
posted by bitter-girl.com at 12:05 PM on December 17, 2009 [2 favorites]


Lulu's Pink Converse:
Yeah, people who have had their employers renege on their obligations, should be able to renege on their obligations to their credit card and mortgage company. Fair's fair right?
posted by wuwei at 12:02 PM on December 17 [+] [!]


wuwei, I'm not sure if you're being serious or snide.

I didn't say that anyone should get to renege on anything - that's the complete opposite of what I'm saying. The article, and my post, I think, make it clear that most of these people people are doing whatever they can to meet their obligations - even if it means taking work that is physically detrimental, even if it means selling their wedding bands. It's just too bad that the corporations that enjoy legal personhood don't have to suffer the physical and emotional consequences that the people at the other end of those reneged-upon agreements are facing.
posted by Lulu's Pink Converse at 12:16 PM on December 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


Lulu's Pink Converse:
I am 100 percent serious. Frankly, if our business and political elite have chosen to turn their back on average Americans, it's about time average Americans start turning their back on the elite.
posted by wuwei at 12:28 PM on December 17, 2009


*turn their backs.
posted by wuwei at 12:28 PM on December 17, 2009


And yet when I tell people that corporate america will need less highly skilled workers (doing whatever it is they're doing, from programming to scientific research) in 50 years I am scoffed at. I wonder if anyone who thought that auto production would ever fall was similarly scoffed at?

And why did anyone trust these companies to begin with? What proof did they offer that they would be able to provide such benefits so far into the future despite any financial predicament? Or did they (stupidly x a million) assume that there would be no financial predicaments?
posted by symbollocks at 12:39 PM on December 17, 2009


Yeah, people who have had their employers renege on their obligations, should be able to renege on their obligations to their credit card and mortgage company. Fair's fair right?

They can, via bankruptcy.

The article, and my post, I think, make it clear that most of these people people are doing whatever they can to meet their obligations - even if it means taking work that is physically detrimental, even if it means selling their wedding bands.


It really doesn't take that much $$ to relocate. I don't buy the whole "my roots are here so I have to stay" thing. Go to where there are jobs. Take your children to a place that won't be dead in 10 years so that they might have more opportunities than you. Be a decent parent.
posted by coolguymichael at 12:44 PM on December 17, 2009


Is this area one of the Republican strongholds?

They have not abandoned the Democratic party.
The Democratic party has abandoned them.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 12:47 PM on December 17, 2009 [5 favorites]


That article will make you want to drink.
posted by smackwich at 12:47 PM on December 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


It really doesn't take that much $$ to relocate. I don't buy the whole "my roots are here so I have to stay" thing. Go to where there are jobs. Take your children to a place that won't be dead in 10 years so that they might have more opportunities than you. Be a decent parent.

Why not take it to its logical conclusion? Already there is a small movement of American engineers and software people looking for jobs in India. The small trickle of Americans chasing down jobs in places like China, will turn into a flood. Do you find that just fine? What's the difference between that and the Ohio situation? It's just a matter of degree - you still leave your extended family and friends behind. So throw in another language and culture and citizenship. Mexicans and Central Americans have been doing it for generations now - and what a welcome mat we've extended to them. I guess there's nothing wrong with Mexico then - anybody who can't find a job there, should just leave. What a glorious future - the itinerant American worker begging for work from one end of the world to the other, hounded from place to place as employment opportunities appear and disappear, as business always seeks the lowest cost structure.

Or we could fix our goddamn economy so people are not uprooted by callous policies which enrich a tiny percentage of citizens and beggar the vast majority.
posted by VikingSword at 12:54 PM on December 17, 2009 [17 favorites]


It really doesn't take that much $$ to relocate. I don't buy the whole "my roots are here so I have to stay" thing. Go to where there are jobs. Take your children to a place that won't be dead in 10 years so that they might have more opportunities than you. Be a decent parent.

Are you really arguing this in sincerity or have you not thought this through? What if you have elderly parents who depend on you care, or a large family network in the area that you rely on and who rely on you? What if your house isn't selling after months on the market at a fraction of the inflation-adjusted price you paid for it fifteen years ago, and what if your credit is terrible after years of spotty employment? What if you were divorced and your former spouse lives with the kids in the next county? What if, like many of these people, your advanced age and obsolete work experience make you far less appealing to hire than a young kid fresh out of college?

These are just several or myriad, complex reasons why hopping over to the next state isn't an option for most of these people, and it's extraordinarily disingenuous to accuse them of indecent parenting because they cannot or will not move their life via UHaul to San Diego to work at the first call center that offers them $11/hour.
posted by zoomorphic at 1:08 PM on December 17, 2009 [5 favorites]


While relocating itself is relatively affordable, it takes you to somewhere completely separate from your existing social networks. Churches, VFW halls, boy scout troops and so forth form a net of people who can and do help one another out. If things were shaky financially, and I moved to a new place, I wouldn't have those networks to rely on.

What I mean to say is that I really can't blame the folks who stay in these towns for doing so. Even if your hometown has fallen on hard times, it's still your hometown.

Upon preview, zoomorphic makes some fine points too, especially re: caring for elderly family members.
posted by Monsters at 1:19 PM on December 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


The article, and my post, I think, make it clear that most of these people people are doing whatever they can to meet their obligations - even if it means taking work that is physically detrimental, even if it means selling their wedding bands.

And it's fucking heartbreaking that it's so meaningless.

Those plants aren't opening back up. Jobs aren't coming back. Like an abused spouse, they try harder and harder to 'make it through right now' without realizing that this is not some fluctuation in the system, but the result of the system. Sorry dude, it's cheaper to hire someone around the world for $2 a day and they don't have to worry about environmental laws.

It really doesn't take that much $$ to relocate. I don't buy the whole "my roots are here so I have to stay" thing. Go to where there are jobs. Take your children to a place that won't be dead in 10 years so that they might have more opportunities than you. Be a decent parent.

Jesus. How do you suggest, for example, a friend's family with 3 kids and no working car should up and move for work? Should they quit eating for a few months to save up? Where should they move, where there are good jobs and good schools for the working poor? Should they sleep in shelters or on the street when they get there until they can afford an apartment?
posted by anti social order at 1:22 PM on December 17, 2009 [4 favorites]


If any Union was worth half of what they claim they are the would have been fighting to take the pension money out of the hands of the companies years ago. IIRC Polaroid employess lost nearly everything over a decade ago when it went belly up with a pension plan that required a majority of Polaroid stock. Well at least now there are limits on company owned stocks in pensions, but the whole idea that Company A is going to be around to take care of you for ever is just so 1960's. Pensions need to go the way of Dino and bam bam.
posted by Gungho at 1:30 PM on December 17, 2009


There is very little "there" there anymore, and we are getting closer and closer to finding that out. No amount of "new industry" will stave off the simple truth: we cannot make things without steel, and we cannot buy cheap steel from overseas forever, especially if all our engineers move overseas in the meantime...

Nup. US steel producers are for sure still in a cyclical downturn now because of the economy, but US domestic steel output has been trending up since the 80s.

More broadly, the US has the world's largest manufacturing output (at least in 2008; I don't know the incidence of the current downturn), and has the fourth-highest manufacturing output per capita in the world (again in 2008).
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 1:31 PM on December 17, 2009


Pensions need to go the way of Dino and bam bam.

401ks are rarely better; people don't put enough into them.
posted by Diablevert at 1:56 PM on December 17, 2009


It really doesn't take that much $$ to relocate. I don't buy the whole "my roots are here so I have to stay" thing. Go to where there are jobs. Take your children to a place that won't be dead in 10 years so that they might have more opportunities than you. Be a decent parent.

It worked for the Joads!
posted by Thorzdad at 2:08 PM on December 17, 2009 [4 favorites]


Jesus. How do you suggest, for example, a friend's family with 3 kids and no working car should up and move for work? Should they quit eating for a few months to save up? Where should they move, where there are good jobs and good schools for the working poor? Should they sleep in shelters or on the street when they get there until they can afford an apartment?

You said it better than I could have but yeah, that's basically where the bootstraps argument falls apart.
posted by hamida2242 at 2:09 PM on December 17, 2009


People stay, at least from what I've seen, for a couple reasons. First, it's the only thing they've ever known, and possibly all their parents have known since coming over from whatever Old Country they left in the 30s and 40s. And second, their property values are so damned low that they literally cannot afford to go anywhere else.

When you paid $38,000 for your four-bedroom house and today it's only worth $33,000, and you're struggling with $10,000 worth of credit card debt, where are you going to move?


The "it's the only thing they've ever known" position is a reasonable one, inasmuch as it's very hard to convince someone to pull up roots and go somewhere else that's better -- on the face of it, it's hard to believe there's a better place just because of geography, unless you've seen it firsthand. Plus, if you're tight with the neighbors and all, leaving that behind can be incredibly painful.

As for the low property values, though, I think that's incorrect; if I had a $38,000 mortgage and $10,000 in credit card debt in a failing community, I'd move into a shithole tiny apartment in a place where property values were high and wages are high to match, and get a crap job that still pays wages high enough to pay my mortgage back home, a bit each month to rent, and my shithole tiny apartment.

Throw in the elderly care part, though, and all bets are off. All the people I personally know in this situation who won't move away are all caring for elderly folk who don't want to move or can't move.
posted by davejay at 2:23 PM on December 17, 2009


Jesus. How do you suggest, for example, a friend's family with 3 kids and no working car should up and move for work? Should they quit eating for a few months to save up? Where should they move, where there are good jobs and good schools for the working poor? Should they sleep in shelters or on the street when they get there until they can afford an apartment?

Despite what I said in my previous comment, I don't disagree. I personally would love to see an adjunct to welfare, where people could receive moving assistance and an initial living stipend to get to an area where jobs are available and low wages are still living wages.

In essence, it would allow people to move where the jobs are, and since the jobs are there, they'll be needed; people in big cities where the cost of living is too high could move somewhere that has much lower cost of living, people in failing towns could move somewhere that has the jobs, and the "winning" towns would be those big enough to have jobs but small enough to have reasonable living expenses.
posted by davejay at 2:25 PM on December 17, 2009


And yet when I tell people that corporate america will need less highly skilled workers (doing whatever it is they're doing, from programming to scientific research) in 50 years I am scoffed at. I wonder if anyone who thought that auto production would ever fall was similarly scoffed at?

Well I certainly won't scoff at you. I believe that 100%, for white-collar type jobs.

I really, really hope that America gets rid of the stigma or whatever that everyone absolutely has to go to college no matter what and that going into an apprenticeship or vocational school for skilled labor (i.e. pipefitter, welder, HVAC, etc) isn't a second-class type of job. There's decent money to be made in skilled labor, usually with great union benefits to boot. For example the job I'm familiar with- working on comms & other misc stuff for the electric company- sure, you might have to work OT on weekends, sit in a truck for several hours, or go out in the sun and lift things; but that OT/DT can get north of $80/hr and you can't beat the benefits with a stick.

I'm sure the type of skilled white-collar work that involves collecting a $70K salary for sending emails and snoozing through meetings in between long paid lunches and leaving early "to go to an appointment" is going away... and I say good riddance. I've been middle management before and it was pretty sweet at the time but then as now I couldn't help but marvel at how little "work" ever actually got done. Department metrics were the same whether the manager was even in the country or not. Someone pointed it out in the sick leave thread, calling "meat in the seat," and that's probably the most apt description of middle management I've ever heard. Come in early a few times a month making sure to stop by your boss's office to "get their read" on something (i.e. make sure they know you came in early), and just make sure to wait until 3:15 to go home after your boss goes home at 3.

Get all that shit out of the US labor market and the sooner the better. Same goes for "consultants." All it does is weigh down the business and increase prices for the customer.

Programming, coding, QA, and increasingly computer janitor work is going to the third world- which sucks- but I'm not going to shed any tears for those folks until I'm done shedding them over the manufacturing, tech support, customer service, etc jobs that have been there for 20 years now.

Sadly, it seems like folks would still rather enjoy the lower prices that come from their clothes/trinkets/electronics made by Chinese slaves, supported by Filipino wage-slaves, sold to them by a 38.5 hr/wk "part time" teenager with no benefits, all the while having undocumented (i.e. underpaid, overworked and forget about benefits) immigrants cutting their grass, harvesting their food, and cleaning up after them.

Then whenever those folks lose their jobs they'll be like "fucking browns stole my job! Time to vote GOP to kick these bastards out!"
posted by hamida2242 at 2:34 PM on December 17, 2009 [5 favorites]


I am from Warren, and the author of the piece is (I think) a friend of a dear friend of mine.

Well if you meet her, please push her down the stairs for me. And toss this patronizing, formulaic article down after her. At this very moment, I sit a broad window in a sparkling new modern office building in Northeast Ohio, looking out over a beautiful rural-suburban landscape, that's crossed by a bustling interstate, with construction cranes visible to both the north and south, and no rusted out factories or droopy-drawered Walker Evans poor people in sight. My view is bracketed by high-end shopping centers separated by about five miles. Under the rooftops visible below woodsy branches live tens of thousands of well-educated, cultured people, with interesting jobs, and beautiful houses. There are beautiful women and good -looking men. They eat at good restaurants, wear nice clothes, shop at the same Whole Foods and watch the same wide screen televisions as you do. Like the people of all classes in Northeast Ohio, they know they they've got it pretty good. This is an easy place to live. It's a great place to be rich, and an even better place to be middle class. The poor of Ohio are no poorer than the poor of Washington, DC, only there are far fewer of them. And they pay a lot less for everything.
posted by Faze at 2:40 PM on December 17, 2009


Faze, good for you for having such a swell life. I hope life doesn't bite you on the ass after decades of hard work, raising your kids and paying your taxes. And making stuff, good products that the country needs.

It is not the pattern of the people I know in Northeastern Ohio, including two of my three siblings still there. The shipyard (Steinbrenner's) closed in the 1970s, the Ford plant closed a year ago, and in between, the steel mill, the Thew Shovel plant, the tool-and-die plant and everything even remotely shut down. In places like that, it's not a matter of depending on one industry but rather interlocked ones. Growing up, if one of those operations, say, the Ford plant, shut down for acouple of weeks for changeover (changing the assembly line for new models) half a dozen businesses dependent on those workers also shut down for a while.

Just because you think it's a stereotype doesn't mean people aren't suffering. I don't know why people stay in those environments for sure but one thing that keeps them there is the sense that they will always be blue-collar and one place isn't much better than the other. Many of them truly believe that the jobs they were doing is what they were meant to do. Not everyone was meant to be a stockbroker, an entrepreneur or a doctor. These are people who just wanted to live their lives, raise their families and not bother anyone else. They sure as hell aren't knocking others for how they're living.
posted by etaoin at 2:56 PM on December 17, 2009 [5 favorites]


Faze, are you in the Mahoning Valley/Trumbull County, where the article is set, or closer to Cleveland? Because I think there is a difference.

To be honest, I did find some of the characterizations patronizing. The real people living this story aren't moping about in torn, dirty clothing, bemoaning their lot in life. They're doing what they have to do, and living the best lives they can, given that the rules of the game they've known all their lives - and I'm talking about people my parents' age, in their early-to-mid sixties and older - have changed drastically, and in ways that guarantee they'll lose. My dad still works with his various groups to provide meals and toys and other assistance to families who are in even worse positions than he is in. He lives a decent life; it's just harder than it should be compared to what he had planned.

In the article, they talk about how people coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan are struggling to find work and services, as compared to the guys who came back from Vietnam. My dad is a Vietnam-era vet, and he was one of the guys who did come home to what was considered a good job. He took that job, started a family, and set about living his life as a regular guy, based on assurances he had no reason to doubt. Anyone who blames him for those choices needs to grow some compassion.

It really was a different world back then, almost forty years ago, and while I don't want to go back there (in time or space), I wish some of that hope, some of that promise, had stuck around. Maybe then I wouldn't live so far away from my entire extended family - I left, a long time ago, just as some of you are advocating now, and it still breaks my heart that my parents don't get to see my kids grow up, because where I grew up has nothing left for my generations, or theirs. I'd like to see it at least have something decent left for my parents and their generation, but that's unlikely.
posted by Lulu's Pink Converse at 3:01 PM on December 17, 2009 [2 favorites]


I sit a broad window in a sparkling new modern office building in Northeast Ohio, looking out over a beautiful rural-suburban landscape, that's crossed by a bustling interstate....My view is bracketed by high-end shopping centers separated by about five miles.

Sounds a little like Hell, actually.
posted by stargell at 3:37 PM on December 17, 2009


Faze is going to break his arm one day, with all the patting himself on the back he does for being so awesome, prescient, and forward-looking.
posted by rtha at 4:20 PM on December 17, 2009 [3 favorites]




I grew up in Northwest Ohio, but the story is the same throughout the entire state - throughout most of the mid-west. There has been a recession in my area of Ohio for nearly a decade. Ever since the Jeep plant closed, there has been no economy and no jobs to speak of. It's old news, yes. But news that other parts of the nation don't really hear much about.

It boggles my mind how we can declare the recession "over" when people continue to live like this...
posted by bloody_bonnie at 5:51 PM on December 17, 2009


After a few hours of contemplating it, I also have to say that this:

This is an easy place to live. It's a great place to be rich ...

has to be one of the most heartless responses to a story like this that I have ever seen. Let them eat cake, indeed.
posted by Lulu's Pink Converse at 6:21 PM on December 17, 2009


Well, no. I can understand where Faze coming from. Not to bore you to tears with yet another Rhode Island reference (too late!), but in Downtown Providence, we have a gorgeous skyline, one of the prettiest cities on the East Coast. If you worked for G-Tech, or BCBS, life would be fine, you'd have an awesome view of the bay from your glittering new skyscraper, the gorgeous Providence Place Mall, and the RISD campus high on its hill.

Gangs regularly fight each other in that gorgeous mall, and less than two miles away are enormous cinderblock cubes where (legal!) child prostitution sucks in more tourist trade than the mansions at Newport, and the business owners in Pawtucket and Woonsocket are in a race to hire the best arsonists to burn down their place. But, hey, there are those beautiful condos going up not two blocks away... condos that won't sell, and the only contractors left working on it were paid up front.

And the historic facades in downtown, five blocks away... and only the facades because they're all that's left after the developers leveled the gorgeous historic office and retail buildings behind them to make luxury housing. That didn't happen. Now they want to tear down the facades to put in parking lots... because everyone needs to take the train to Boston in order to make a living these days*, so parking pays more than storefronts, offices and restaurants.

But, hey, if you work for G-Tech or one of the meager handful of business units BOA left in the Fleet Building after the implosion of Fleet Bank due to its horrendous mergers, then yes, life is glittering glass skyscrapers. If you worked for Cross or Collibri or Brooks or fished the Grand Banks or handled mortgage processing for Citizens Bank... life is now working at Target part-time, or going to school to be a mechanic, and hoping your Landlord doesn't decide to nail up the paper. Not that he's evicted you, no-one can afford to evict their tenants these days... the notice that he's foreclosed, and put everyone on the street without notice.

(* That's me! Except I ride my bike to the station everyday... tho it kinda sucked today. 15 degrees, no joke.)
posted by Slap*Happy at 6:42 PM on December 17, 2009


Christ, Faze. I'm glad that you got yours but damn, can you really be that insensitive to the suffering of others?
posted by octothorpe at 7:08 PM on December 17, 2009




we cannot make things without steel, and we cannot buy cheap steel from overseas forever, especially if all our engineers move overseas in the meantime...

We're still 3rd in the world for steel production. True, China produces about 5 times as much as we do, but it's not like we don't make steel in the US anymore.

Similarly, we're third in the world for exports, and we're a very close third to both China (2nd) and Germany (1st).

Our economy has shifted towards services, and our lack of a decent social safety net definitely didn't do these folks any favors, but the US is far from utterly dependent on imports. Remember that a huge amount of what we import are useless tchotchkes that we could easily do without (or at least I hope we could).
posted by jedicus at 8:11 PM on December 17, 2009


i note with some apprehension that there's not one word in that article about people cashing in their guns
posted by pyramid termite at 8:30 PM on December 17, 2009


Ohio Representative Dennis Kucinich, today - "The class warfare is over, we lost. I want to make that announcement today. Working people lost. The middle class lost."

Yes, class warfare is over and working people lost. But saying "today" is a bit bizarre. They lost a long time ago. Maybe the consequences of that loss are more visible - to some - but working people lost a long time ago. And I don't mean only since real wages have stagnated and gone back - this too is merely a consequence. Losses - more of the same I suppose... I'd have said "until the revolution", but I don't believe anymore that there will be one - the control tools have gotten way too sophisticated; divide and conquer - you know, sometimes the losers lose for good, and never come back, just like empires have gone and never come back. It wasn't more than 30 years ago, when one could still ask if it's morning in America again (disingenuously as it was). These days, it seems like America is firmly on the downslope, and nothing will bring it back... it's tempting to say, and even true, that GWB screwed us up too badly, but the deeper truth is that we were ready to be screwed; I know many hoped Obama could still pull off a hail mary pass, but I'm afraid that was never a realistic hope. Meanwhile, we'll have these stories, only more and more of them.
posted by VikingSword at 9:06 PM on December 17, 2009


Our economy has shifted towards services, and our lack of a decent social safety net definitely didn't do these folks any favors, but the US is far from utterly dependent on imports.

I didn't claim we were. I said that "there is very little 'there' there anymore, and we are getting closer and closer to finding that out", and I stand by that. The problem is the shift toward services. Yes, we still make steel in the US, and yes, we still do lots of manufacturing, but the truth is that we manufacture roughly half as much (as a percentage of GDP) as we did in the 60s... and the picture for employment is even worse. On top of that, we have most of our steel eggs in just two baskets now (US Steel and Nucor), and many of our other industries have been similarly undiversified through mergers and acquisitions.

Thus, the problem isn't "we don't make enough X to make Y without imports" (though frankly, I suspect this may be the case if we examine exactly what's being imported and exported, especially when you look at the regional level rather than the country as a whole). The problem is that we don't make enough X, Y, Z, or anything else to drive the economy at the level at which we're accustomed. What we have is an economy in which wealth redistribution (i.e. service jobs and management) outweighs wealth creation (i.e. manufacturing and construction). This particular game can only go on for so long until the music stops and many of us realize we haven't got a chair... especially since those at the top have pretty much ceased to pretend as if they aren't simply stealing from everyone.

If people are not making money -- and by that I mean making it, not just taking it from somebody else who made it -- then people stop spending. And if people stop spending, the people who make money by taking it from somebody else are also not making money. This is exactly the spiral we're in now, and I believe it has a lot to do with allowing manufacturing jobs to disappear, and with allowing companies to treat the American worker like a disposable, interchangeable "asset".

The phrase a steady job has pretty much lost its original meaning, and now we're all paying the price.
posted by vorfeed at 9:54 PM on December 17, 2009


I'm not American, but I find the lack of compassion towards these people mystifying. These people aren't lazy or trying to get something for nothing, they appear to be the willing workers that I always thought were the proud core of America.
That they are fucked and there are some of their countrymen blithely writing off their hardship as inflexibility in the modern labor market is incredibly sad.
posted by bystander at 4:06 AM on December 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


the US is far from utterly dependent on imports

Doing a quick googling:

US Oil Production: ~7.46 million bbl/day
US Oil Imports: ~13.15 million bbl/day
posted by symbollocks at 4:48 AM on December 18, 2009


As for the low property values, though, I think that's incorrect; if I had a $38,000 mortgage and $10,000 in credit card debt in a failing community, I'd move into a shithole tiny apartment in a place where property values were high and wages are high to match, and get a crap job that still pays wages high enough to pay my mortgage back home, a bit each month to rent, and my shithole tiny apartment.

Mmm, doesn't always work that way. I left Cleveland for a few years and was forced to sell my $74,000 house (with tasty $670 mortgage payment) because I couldn't afford both it AND my new $600 rent for a single bedroom in a house shared with 9 other people in Boston. Also, the wages I made in Boston were actually worse than the ones I'd left in Cleveland, though they were an equally responsible position. (Fortunately I was able to sell the house quickly to a friend so I didn't have to float both for long, but the time I spent paying for both pretty much killed all my savings. What I wouldn't do to have that low mortgage now!).

I came back to Ohio [cue the Pretenders song now] because it was cheaper to live here on my pitiful book advance, my boyfriend had a house, and my parents were happy to help me for the first few months I was back. It's not fantastic, economy-wise, but you can squeak out a decent living easier than you can in one of the big fancy cities you think are an economic Shangri-La. Oh, and I don't have to share a bathroom with the three other people on my floor, either.
posted by bitter-girl.com at 6:40 AM on December 18, 2009


An article in today's Cincinnati Enquirer about Wilmington, Ohio (75 miles NE of Cincy) and how they are coping after DHL shut down.
posted by Mick at 10:54 AM on December 18, 2009


This WashPo piece may paint a fairly accurate picture of Warren/Yompton, but Faze's (albeit callous) description applies to Northeast Ohio equally well. Although I left Akron more than a dozen years ago, I still get back two or three times a year to see family. The city is struggling, yes, but it's working hard to continually reinvent itself, and you can see it all over the downtown and inner-city area. For example, the constantly-expanding University of Akron has helped revitalize the downtown area (ne the "City of Akron University"), as well as the sparkling new football stadium that has replaced the "Zip Strip" college bars along Exchange Street. The city government has renovated the bazillion square feet of former rubber factories, which now house dozens upon dozens of tech startups, and also built a top-notch minor-league ballpark for the double-A Akron Aeros. The area underneath the Viaduct is now home to loft-style apartments, a few small galleries and Chrissy Hines' Vegiterranean restaurant. There's even a fledgling arts district (okay, half a block) where you can find a couple of creative agencies, a wine bar and Rubber City Clothing.

Point being, although the entire region has been beaten to hell not only by the recession, but by the decline of manufacturing in America, there are still a lot of enterprising people and municipalities that are working hard to turn around their communities. And some are actually having some success.
posted by slogger at 10:57 AM on December 18, 2009


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