Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Ragnarök Youngstown

Once again, Mahoning Valley misery is national news. You've seen the images a thousand times. If not in Youngstown or Warren, then in Detroit. The new round of photos don't look so fresh. They haven't for 30 years:

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 road from Warren and Youngstown is a graveyard of silent machines behind chain-link fences. Near the Pennsylvania border, this 25-mile stretch along the Mahoning River was the world's fifth-largest producer of steel until the late 1970s, when more than 50,000 jobs vanished in a decade. The General Motors plant in Lordstown, which employed 14,000 in the 1970s, is down to about 2,500 workers.

Every time globalization goes into one of its funks, some journalist is grasping for the final nail in this region's coffin. The angle is the same, as are the images. It is cliché, the latest downturn providing another excuse to dredge the Mahoning River for the body of Industrial America.

The real story, if you can pry your eyes away from the urban blight, are the changes. The "final erasure" is the burial of the glory days, a blank slate. However, a writer can't look at the current pain without relating what happened in the late 1970s. This isn't the flaking gild of the Golden State or dramatic collapse of Motor City. Thus, everyone overlooks the transformation in order to provide another glimpse of a crumbling steel mill. It's supposed to be a sign of the times.

These aren't the last days of disco.

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