Ohio Steel Towns Falling by the Wayside
With the nation mired in the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, millions of Americans are experiencing unemployment, financial instability and dwindling hope for the future. But for one dying city in northeast Ohio, those sentiments are nothing new.
While the recession is taking a major toll on Americans all across the country, it is simply adding insult to injury for the people of the Youngstown metropolitan area, according to The Washington Post.
“In this corner of northeast Ohio, from Warren to Youngstown, where the old steel mills along the Mahoning River stand like rusted-out mastodons in the weeds, the recession was a final cruelty piled on top of three decades of disappearing jobs,” The Washington Post’s Anne Hull writes.
Once the world’s fifth largest producer of steel, the city is now a shell of its former self. Gone are the giant mills and factories that employed hundreds of thousands and allowed the city and region to thrive. Today, many of those structures still stand – crumbling and idle.
The city, much like many other rust-belt cities, was devastated by the effects of globalization and increased free trade.
In 1974, around the time that globalization was beginning to take effect, 521,000 steel workers were employed in the metropolitan area. By 2000, those numbers had fallen to just 151,000.
All told during the decade, as steel mill after steel mill either closed down or moved away, the region lost some 50,000 manufacturing jobs, $414 million in personal income, and up to 75 percent of school tax revenues.
From there, things have went from bad to worse. Since the 1970s, each decade the city has lost at least 14 percent of its total population. The median family income is just $21,850 – the lowest of all American cities with a population between 65,000 and 250,000 and 18 percent lower than the closet city – and just under one-quarter of the population lives below the poverty line.
The local university – Youngstown State – is now the largest employer in the area.
“Before there was a so-called creative class, there were people who made light bulbs, water fountains, aluminum siding and electrical harnesses for cars,” Hull writes.
But no more. For those that aren’t part of the “creative class,” there is next to nothing left. In Youngstown, the unemployment rate is 14 percent, just a tick below the 15 percent unemployment rate registered in neighboring Warren, Ohio.
“In a place defined by work,” Hull writes, “there is little to be had.”