[lbo-talk] blog post: speak out, fight back!

MICHAEL YATES mikedjyates at msn.com
Fri Apr 1 10:03:46 PDT 2011

Full at http://blog.cheapmotelsandahotplate.org/2011/04/01/speak-out-fight-back/

We spent six weeks in January and February in Ford City, Pennsylvania, my hometown. We stayed with my mother, in the house in which I grew up, and slept in the twin beds in my old room. Fifty years ago, I would pull up the covers and listen to faraway AM stations on my father’s Hallicrafter shortwave radio. I’d think about girls and baseball games and fall asleep while the train whistle blew in the distance. I never thought, much less worried, about the future. It was a hopeful and prosperous period for the white working class, and I couldn’t imagine anything but good times ahead.

Today the good times are all gone. The population (a little over 3,000) declined by nearly 10 percent in the last decade, and it has been falling since the 1970s. It is half what it was when I was a teenager. Jobs are scarce; drug and alcohol abuse are rampant (there were two heroin overdoses in one evening); wages are shockingly low; and homeowners, including one of my relatives, are selling out to the Marcellus shale companies for ridiculously small sums of money. The glass factory and the pottery that once paid union wages are shuttered. Every day, the local paper lists a slew of arrests, jail admissions, and fines levied. The sad affects of the shoppers at the Wal Mart and the crowds in the store at midday—retirees and younger men and women who would be at work in a more prosperous area—are paradigmatic of what has been happening.

We took frequent trips to Pittsburgh, about forty miles south, traveling occasionally on back roads that went through some other small towns. They all looked poor and rundown, victims not only of the demise of local manufacturing and mining but also more than two years of deep recession. Pittsburgh, itself, was dreary and dirty, with roads chock full of deep potholes. Gang violence and murders are appallingly common; public services are getting ever more scarce; and the city’s finances are in disarray. Given what we saw, we were stunned when the Economist rated Pittsburgh one of the most livable cities in the world. My guess is that if you gave the magazine’s editors a choice of cities in which to live, none of them would choose Pittsburgh.

Western Pennsylvania may have features that make its economic misery unique, but I think in most respects it is not that much different than scores of other regions in the country. New York Times columnist Bob Herbert put it well in his final column last week:

So here we are pouring shiploads of cash into yet another war, this time in Libya, while simultaneously demolishing school budgets, closing libraries, laying off teachers and police officers, and generally letting the bottom fall out of the quality of life here at home.

Welcome to America in the second decade of the 21st century. An army of long-term unemployed workers is spread across the land, the human fallout from the Great Recession and long years of misguided economic policies. Optimism is in short supply. The few jobs now being created too often pay a pittance, not nearly enough to pry open the doors to a middle-class standard of living. . . .

High unemployment, enormous and growing inequalities in wealth and income, and endless wars are pestilences that stalk the land, leaving in their wakes a litany of woes: homicides, suicides, heart attacks, hypertension, arrests, prison admissions, mental illness, post traumatic stress disorder, alcoholism, drug addiction, homelessness, family dysfunctions, and a host of others. Job growth is so slow that it will take nearly a decade just to get the unemployment rate down to 5 percent.

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