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The Real Story of Michiganders at work

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What readers are saying

"The state is best shape it has been in years! Lower taxes, better tariffs for Americans."

Kent, Hayward, WI

"You guys rock..."

Vee, Adrian, MI

"True...Things are looking up"

Thomas, Scranton, PA

“There are more manufacturing jobs in my area than we can hire for”

Josh, Neenah, WI
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COLUMN:

Let's talk! You know...

paycheck to paycheck

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Two signs may tell the tale of a town where the past and the future intersect.

The first is chiseled in Church Slavonic above the entrance to a century-old Byzantine Catholic church.

The other is only a block or two away on the town’s main street, proclaiming in three alphabets—the Cyrillic used by Ruthenian immigrants notably not among them—the presence of a Vietnamese yoga studio.

The town is Braddock, on the banks of the Monongahela River southeast of Pittsburgh.  The roller coasters of Pittsburgh’s iconic Kennywood Park are visible across the river and it does not take a visitor long to find hints of a storied past:  the first of the hundreds of Carnegie Libraries the steel baron would endow worldwide still stands and the hum of U. S. Steel’s Edgar Thomson Works—built as the first American mill to use the then-new Bessemer Converter and now the site of a billion-dollar upgrade—is rarely distant.

Many of those who shape the media narrative tend to think of the growth and decline of industrial towns like Braddock as inexorable, a sweeping historical process over which mere mortals have no control.

At a glance, the statistics bear them out:  Braddock has little more than a tenth the population it did a century ago, and a stroll along Braddock Avenue takes one past far more closed storefronts than open businesses.

The resilience of the steel country should not be underestimated, though.

There is more to the economic fabric of the Monongahela Valley than steel—as there must be, since modern steelmaking does not require the army of workers who once filled every corner of this community and a hundred like it.

Instead, the community is sustained by the sort of businesses that rarely make headlines:  an apparel company, a small manufacturer, a warehouse. The fabric of community life is hard to miss—a coffee shop where the bulletin board notes the weekly presence of a food bank, a sign noting the meetings of the Rotary Club a few miles down the road, a fading poster from last fall’s high school football season, a startling number of churches ranging from striking neo-Gothic buildings to storefronts.

Comments have a common theme: “yeah, we got hit pretty hard when the mills slowed down,” describing the massive contraction in the American steel industry decades ago “but this is our home, and the only place we want to be.”  There’s another one as well: “in the last few years, it seems like people are finally paying attention to places like this.”

Does that reflect a political shift, a change in the country’s economic model, or simply the effect of the passage of time in this once-bustling town?  That may not be clear—but it is not something one would have heard a decade or two ago, and whatever it portends is far from insignificant.

Photo courtesy of Jon Dawson at Flickr

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Two signs may tell the tale of a town where the past and the future intersect.

The first is chiseled in Church Slavonic above the entrance to a century-old Byzantine Catholic church.

The other is only a block or two away on the town’s main street, proclaiming in three alphabets—the Cyrillic used by Ruthenian immigrants notably not among them—the presence of a Vietnamese yoga studio.

The town is Braddock, on the banks of the Monongahela River southeast of Pittsburgh.  The roller coasters of Pittsburgh’s iconic Kennywood Park are visible across the river and it does not take a visitor long to find hints of a storied past:  the first of the hundreds of Carnegie Libraries the steel baron would endow worldwide still stands and the hum of U. S. Steel’s Edgar Thomson Works—built as the first American mill to use the then-new Bessemer Converter and now the site of a billion-dollar upgrade—is rarely distant.

Many of those who shape the media narrative tend to think of the growth and decline of industrial towns like Braddock as inexorable, a sweeping historical process over which mere mortals have no control.

At a glance, the statistics bear them out:  Braddock has little more than a tenth the population it did a century ago, and a stroll along Braddock Avenue takes one past far more closed storefronts than open businesses.

The resilience of the steel country should not be underestimated, though.

There is more to the economic fabric of the Monongahela Valley than steel—as there must be, since modern steelmaking does not require the army of workers who once filled every corner of this community and a hundred like it.

Instead, the community is sustained by the sort of businesses that rarely make headlines:  an apparel company, a small manufacturer, a warehouse. The fabric of community life is hard to miss—a coffee shop where the bulletin board notes the weekly presence of a food bank, a sign noting the meetings of the Rotary Club a few miles down the road, a fading poster from last fall’s high school football season, a startling number of churches ranging from striking neo-Gothic buildings to storefronts.

Comments have a common theme: “yeah, we got hit pretty hard when the mills slowed down,” describing the massive contraction in the American steel industry decades ago “but this is our home, and the only place we want to be.”  There’s another one as well: “in the last few years, it seems like people are finally paying attention to places like this.”

Does that reflect a political shift, a change in the country’s economic model, or simply the effect of the passage of time in this once-bustling town?  That may not be clear—but it is not something one would have heard a decade or two ago, and whatever it portends is far from insignificant.

Photo courtesy of Jon Dawson at Flickr

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