Page 2 of 5   <       >

Recession hitting Ohio's former steel towns hard

'A final erasure'

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. Now in the midst of a national recession, this stretch of America along the Mahoning River is left to wonder what happened and what's next.

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.

The ladies at Holy Trinity Ukrainian Catholic Church still sell pierogies every Friday, and Youngstown's classic rock station still bows its shaggy head before playing "Crystal Ball" by Styx, but the grit and grime of industrialization has mostly gone overseas.

Since January 2008, another 10,000 manufacturing jobs have been lost, according to recent Ohio employment figures.

In Warren, the once-mighty Delphi Packard Electric is a ghostly presence after the auto-parts maker cut 260 more employees. The $2 million in income tax revenue the city received from Delphi in 2003 has dropped to $70,000. Smaller casualties abound: Ohio Lamp laid off 80, Mahoning Glass announced the closure of its 100-worker plant and the list goes on.

"It's a final erasure," says John Russo, a labor studies professor at Youngstown State University, describing the lethality of job losses and plant closures.

Here is what the recovery looks like in the land of the working class:

Grown women in hairnets are working alongside teenagers at drive-through windows, and college graduates are loading bread trucks.

"A 48-year-old Youngstown man was charged, accused of stealing $14 worth of food from Rite Aid Pharmacy," reads an entry in the weekly police report published in the Vindicator. "A Youngstown woman, 21, was charged with filling a shopping cart with $154 worth of groceries and leaving an Aldi food store without paying."

In a place defined by work, there is little to be had.

One gray morning, a man named George Tomlin is grateful to be driving to his job.

Tomlin, 41, has worked in an aluminum foundry, a meatpacking house and a vinyl fabricator, each job paying a little less than the one before. Two years ago, he found temp work in a factory that made flowerpots. He received $7.50 an hour and jolts to his belt buckle from static electricity coming off the assembly line.

"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."

<       2              >

© 2009 The Washington Post Company