Category Archives: Labor

Ohio and the Fate of the "Big Eight"

The 2010 Census produced mixed results for America’s “legacy cities,” that is deindustrialized cities located primarily, but not exclusively, in the Midwest and in the Mid-Atlantic states. While east coast cities like Newark and Philadelphia actually posted population gains, Midwestern Rust Belt cities generally continued their long slide down in terms of population growth. This proved especially true in the state of Ohio, formerly a key manufacturing hub and once arguably the heartland of Industrial North America. For not only have Ohio’s major cities continued to shrink, their population loss actually ACCELERATED from 2000 to 2010. The same largely holds true for the shrinking counties that are home to Ohio’s seven withering major cities.

All of this leads to a central question: How long will it be before Ohio itself loses population? Much is at stake. Not just tax bases, representation in the house, and federal funding, but national relevance. With the decline of the Upper Midwest/Great Lakes region, Ohio’s internal decay is even more of a pressing issue.

The state has been traditionally known for its “Big Eight” cities: Columbus, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Toledo, Akron, Dayton, Canton, and Youngstown. All of these cities, save the capital city of Columbus, owe their existence to the explosion in manufacturing in the nineteenth and early twentieth century. Cleveland was an early leader in automotive production before diversifying into other manufacturing sectors as the twentieth century wore on. Youngstown was a steel center, known as “America’s Ruhr Valley.” Dayton’s manufacturing muscle grew on, among other things, automobiles, foundries, and printing plants. Toledo was also known for auto manufacturing and the glass industry.

Suburbanization in the post-war era and deindustrialization hit Ohio’s cities as hard as any in the nation. From the early 1970s to the mid 1980s, Ohio’s manufacturing employment dropped by nearly 20 percent. Simultaneously, Ohio’s metropolitan areas decentralized. Seven of the Big Eight began to crumble, albeit at various speeds. The deterioration in the economic and social fortunes of Ohio’s cities through the 1980s has been well covered in a variety of venues. What has been less mentioned is that, unlike east coast legacy cities, the decline of Ohio’s major cities accelerated from 2000 to 2010. And according to 2012 U.S. Census Bureau estimates, the decline continues.

Figure one is a comparison of the change in population for seven of Ohio’s Big Eight from the 2000 to 2010 census.

Figure 1

Every one of these cities experienced a larger decline in 2010 than they did in 2000. Cleveland’s collapse is particularly shocking, as are Dayton and Youngstown’s double-digit losses. Even Akron, somewhat of a success story, experienced a surprising drop in 2010. After seeing a substantial improvement in its population numbers in 2000, the city registered its largest population decline since 1980 in the year 2010. The 2012 census estimates look equally dismal: Only one out of 15 Ohio cities with a population of over 50,000 managed not to lose residents. Two of Ohio’s cities (Cleveland and Youngstown) were among the seven fastest shrinking cities in the entire nation during that period. Youngstown was the country’s fastest shrinking city.

Counties containing a major shrinking city are on a similar path of continued contraction. With the exception of Stark and Summit in 2000, accelerated population loss has become the norm, as figure two below shows.

Figure 2

(Chart shows negative population loss. Negative numbers are positive)

Lucas County, Mahoning, and Cuyahoga experienced large decreases in the period from 2000 to 2010. Cuyahoga, home to the second largest city in the state, is the fastest shrinking county in the state. Mahoning County in particular faces a troubled future. Between the middle of 2008 and the middle of 2009, Mahoning had more deaths than births. This is termed “negative natural increase.” Once a county experiences a cycle of negative natural increase, it is likely to re-enter the cycle again at some point.

The population decrease of the state’s major cities and counties is almost certainly a prelude to state population loss; a major sign is the disappearance of young people, a problem especially centered in counties housing the state’s largest cities. Cuyahoga County’s under-18 population dipped 16 percent between 2000 and 2010. In fact, Ohio’s drop in people under 18 was the third worst in the nation.

Ohio’s manufacturing employment wasn’t just hard hit during the seventies and eighties. At the beginning of the century Ohio had nearly a million manufacturing jobs. A little over a decade later just under 350,000 of those jobs remained. Manufacturing is the crucial piece of the economic puzzle in Ohio. And as the “recovery” begins to pick up steam, especially for automobile production and pipe production for energy exploration, manufacturing will continue to be a centerpiece of the state domestic product. However, it’s unlikely job growth will ever return to the numbers seen in the nineties, much less the seventies. Also present is a significant skills gap, particularly in distressed urban communities, between what modern manufacturing employers are demanding and what job seekers possess. Lost manufacturing jobs are particularly troubling considering that average compensation in manufacturing for the year 2009 was nearly $68,000, while non-farm, non-manufacturing sectors averaged only about $42,000.

As important as the decline in manufacturing jobs is for the state, there are other negative long-term indicators. According to the Brookings Institute, “Ohio underperformed the national average on employment in every industry from 2000 to 2008. Ohio’s shrinking industries are declining faster than its growing industries are gaining ground.” There have been bright spots, like the creation of the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute in Youngstown or the Evergreen Cooperatives in Cleveland-a green worker co-op that’s part of a highly innovative “Cleveland Model.” The model partners community co-ops and anchor institutions (like universities and hospitals) with a large local footprint that could utilize services in their surrounding communities. Still, it’s unclear how long these initiatives will take to have a measurable impact. And time is not on the side of the “Big Seven.”

The term Big Seven denotes the absence of the capital city of Columbus. Unlike the others, Columbus has seemingly prospered while urban flight and deindustrialization ate away at her brethren. Columbus’ diversified economy traditionally buffered it from the extremely cyclical nature of Ohio’s manufacturing cities. And while sprawl devastated other cities in the state, Columbus annexed outlying areas, withholding the extension of water lines to areas that might resist incorporation into the city. Annexation disguises the low-density nature of the city. The urban core of Columbus has been hit hard by foreclosure and disinvestment. The near east side and south side are also experiencing disinvestment, yet, Columbus is drawing people from all over Ohio. It is the only one of the Big Eight with a growing population.

Franklin County, however, which Columbus dominates, has a child poverty rate of almost 27 percent.[vii] For several years child poverty in Ohio has eclipsed the national average; approximately one in four children live in poverty. Black child poverty in Ohio is three times higher than all other child poverty. The percentage of black children living in poverty in Ohio’s Big Eight is much higher than the state average. In 2003, over 40 percent of black children in Youngstown, Toledo, Akron, Cleveland, Cincinnati, and Canton lived below the poverty line. In 2011, that number was over 50 percent in Toledo and around 56 percent in Youngstown.

Ohio is now very likely to join Michigan as the only other state in the union to have lost population. While recent census estimates show a very slight uptick in growth, long-term trends are more than enough to reverse this. Overall population growth is trending in the wrong direction. Ohio’s metropolitan areas are no closer to resolving long-standing conflicts between city and suburb; instead, shrinking counties are home to a polyglot of municipalities fighting over ever-decreasing economic pies. The federal government has long been an absentee voice in the realm of urban issues, so what is being done at the state level? States have toolboxes that can hinder or help cities. Ohio’s poor record on fostering municipal cooperation, encouraging sprawl and green field development, as well as failing to invest in twenty first century transportation infrastructure, is more than discouraging-it’s akin to promoting spatial suicide. Since Ohio’s 2005 tax cut-that largely benefited top-earners-job growth in every sector has trailed the national average. From 2005 to 2009, Ohio eliminated its corporate income tax, instead establishing a “commercial activity tax” in 2010. Unfortunately corporations are multi-state enterprises and are likely to invest such tax breaks in places other than Ohio, which is apparently what happened. Since 2005, only three other states have worse job growth rates.

Ohio’s budget for 2014 and 2015 also features income tax cuts (mostly benefiting the wealthy, again) and an increase in the regressive sales tax. Tax cuts up to $250,000 for small business owners won’t add up to much of a stimulus when most small business owners make under $30,000 a year. Estate taxes, the majority of which fund local government, are now gone. Distressed cities in Ohio will likely have to enact further reductions in services, which in turn will make them even less desirable places to live.

Ohio is in crisis mode, whether the state government realizes it or not. Seven out of Ohio’s eight major cities are in various states of decline or even collapse. The economy is moribund on many levels. The decline of manufacturing employment is hurting working class families at a time when few opportunities for college graduates are driving more young people to the Sun Belt and elsewhere. As the Greater Ohio Policy Center points out, “Ohio’s seven largest metro areas are home to 71 percent of its population, 76 percent of its jobs, and 80 percent of the states’ gross domestic product.” With accelerating blight and population loss, metropolitan fragmentation, and a disconnected state government more interested in restricting access to abortion than in increasing access to education and jobs for low-income households, Ohio faces a race to the bottom of states in terms of opportunity and quality of life.

–Sean Posey

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Documenting Pittsburgh's Labor Culture

Worker with United Electrical, Radio & Machine Workers of America flag – Pittsburgh, PA

“There are no saviors, we are our own saviors. We have the capacity to save ourselves. Not individually no, but we have the capacity to band together, work together and understand that in order to create a better world, we need to create a world in where we all live better. If we create a world where only some live better, we haven’t created a better world.” – Mel Packer, Pittsburgh Activist & Community Organizer

When it comes to my work as a social documentary photographer, the image is secondary. Sure, I want my pictures to be clear and dynamic, but I need to fill the frame with interesting subjects in order to accomplish this. That’s why the experience comes first. Without it, I’m merely taking pictures.

Stephen Pellegrino, working class artist & musician – Homestead, PA

I count my involvement within the labor community in Pittsburgh to be a testament to this philosophy. Citizens of Industry, my first long term documentary project on labor culture and worker solidarity, has afforded me the opportunity to meet people that I wouldn’t have otherwise. The first installment of the project, Steel City Solidarity, uses photo documentation, interviews and various forms of multimedia to chronicle the state of labor and worker solidarity in the city of bridges. The current social and political climate of inequality has manifested itself into a complex struggle at the grassroots level; creating a strong base of community activism using alternative methods of cultivating advocacy and awareness. Pittsburgh has one of the strongest histories of unionism and civil involvement in the United States, and allows for an in-depth look at the inner workings of this ever-evolving movement.

Documenting labor culture has been a long tradition in the photographic community. Early photographers such as Otto Hagel, Milton Rogovin and Charles Rivers understood the importance of chronicling the strife of workers; not only as a historical document, but with an eye for artistic composition. Unlike straight journalism, documentary work allows for a more personal storytelling approach.

May Day March for Immigration Reform – Pittsburgh, PA

For the past year and a half, the work has allowed me to examine the industrial landscape of Pittsburgh and become acquainted with those who inhabit it. I’ve explored the roots of the region’s steel history through the ruins of its iron ore plants, and examined the essence of protest and advocacy by participating in area rallies and conversing with community leaders. I have talked with individuals who have lost their jobs by trying to unionize, and have learned about the cultural spirit of labor through the region’s artists and musicians. While these experiences have advanced my project, they have also influenced my own resolve. My confidence in the labor movement is stronger than ever.

With the first installment of Citizens of Industry coming to a close, the project will continue to grow as a multipart examination of worker culture throughout the rust belt region. It is the desire of all artists for their efforts to endure, and it is my hope that the work will not only serve as an educational piece, but as a creative narrative into the heart of the working class. Time will only tell.

– Andy Prisbylla

Visit Citizens of Industry at

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A literary triumph – “Nothing But Blue Skies” by Edward McClelland

It is difficult to describe how truly outstanding the book entitled Nothing But Blue Skies: The Heyday, Hard Times, and Hopes of America’s Industrial Heartland is to read. As a nearly lifelong Rust Belt resident, I can attest to the fact that Edward McClelland’s newly released book simply nails our industrial heritage, decline, and hopeful potential squarely on the head. From nationally known politicians like Dennis Kucinich or Coleman Young to the everyday blue-collar laborer toiling in our mills and factories, Mr. McClelland personifies the Rust Belt like no other book I have ever read on the subject. As a Lansing native, he has personally witnessed the dramatic (and sometimes catastrophic) changes just in his lifetime. In Nothing But Blue Skies, Mr. McClelland takes the reader on a quasi-chronological step-by-step sequence of events that shook the Rust Belt down it its very core.

From Buffalo and the loss of its competitive edge with the opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway to Detroit’s dramatic fall from grace following the 1967 riot, to Cleveland’s multi-decade search for post-Cuyahoga River fire redemption, to Flint, Homestead, and other cities. Mr. McClelland whisks the reader through a series of events that spelled the disaster for America’s Industrial Heartland and gave rise to its current moniker of Rust Belt.

Nothing But Blue Skies is a literary triumph that must be read by anyone who has an interest in history, sociology, economics, demographics, geography, politics, planning, environmental protection, and many other topics. Author Edward McClelland takes the best (and worst) of our post-World War II legacy and paints a tapestry of images that is very hard to put down. I guarantee that you will empathize with many of the everyday folks identified in his book, as they are exactly the same as you and I – Rust Belters.

– Rick Brown

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Is Ed Glaeser Wrong About Detroit?

Two weeks ago, Ed Glaeser, professor of Economics at Harvard and author of The Triumph of the City, wrote another in a series of articles that use Detroit as an example of a failed city that has lost its “entrepreneurial culture,” despite, and perhaps because of, large public investments in infrastructure and housing (see Bloomberg articles, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and City Journal.) In these articles, Glaeser consistently argues that the country should learn from Detroit’s experience and, more-or-less, uniformly avoid federal infrastructure spending. He argues that cities should instead  focus on deregulation and lowering taxes that scare away would-be entrepreneurs. “Failed public policies that tried to fix Detroit with urban renewal and transportation projects stand as stark evidence against the view that our economic woes call for more federal spending on infrastructure,” says Glaeser.

In reality, Detroit’s renewal projects of the twentieth century provide no such “stark evidence” against the potential value of housing and infrastructure investments. Glaeser’s “evidence” exists only if one ignores the details of urban renewal in Detroit and cherry picks extraordinarily broad correlations. In Glaeser’s telling, Detroit rapidly lost population throughout the latter half of the twentieth century, just as the federal government poured money into “transportation infrastructure” and “housing.” As such, says Glaeser, America should avoid such investments in the future.

A closer look at the record shows that Detroit under-invested in non-highway transportation infrastructure throughout the twentieth century while destroying thousands of units of housing. Detroit’s decades long urban renewal program was indeed a disaster for the city, not because of its investments in housing and infrastructure, but because of its embrace of the anti-urban and racist ideals and policies of the day.

Although Detroit did make a substantial investments in infrastructure throughout the twentieth century, such investments were shaped by anti-urban ideals. Apart from the People Mover project that Glaeser references, which was far too little (three miles of light rail) and far too late (mid-1980s), Detroit’s urban renewal investments in “transportation infrastructure” were devoted to miles-upon-miles of highways. Such highways ripped up and divided scores of once-functional neighborhoods throughout Detroit.

Glaeser is no friend of highway spending, but it is misleading and misguided to use Detroit’s twentieth century “transportation investments” to argue broadly against public investments in transportation infrastructure. With the exception of the People Mover, Detroit has failed to make any investments in rapid transit. Detroit nearly built a comprehensive subway in the 1920s, but residents ultimately rejected the plans because they did not want to pay the special assessments that would have funded the system. The city tried again in the ‘30s, hoping to finance a smaller system through Public Works Administration funding, but was turned away due to a subway and elevated system being considered “socially undesirable.”

As we re-embrace the ideals of urban living and move beyond what Glaeser calls the “twentieth century aberration” of suburban living, it is likely that a pre-existing and comprehensive transit system would have proven to be an asset for the City of Detroit. Such a system would likely go a long way in helping Detroit to compete with its suburbs or other cities for residents and their crucial tax dollars. Is the lesson of Detroit, perhaps, not that it failed because it wasted money on infrastructure, but rather that it collapsed because it embraced infrastructure and ideals that were antithetical to urban living?

Glaeser also states that the federal government “showered” Detroit with funds to build new housing throughout the 1960s. “Detroit’s never needed more housing or transportation,” Glaeser assures us, “declining cities are practically defined by having too much infrastructure relative to people.” In reality, while Detroit was indeed losing population in the 1960s, it was simultaneously experiencing a severe housing crisis. Unfortunately, Detroit’s “housing investments” in the 1950s and 1960s only served to make this problem worse by destroying thousands of units of low-income black housing.

The reason for this housing shortage—despite declining overall population—is that a perfect free market rarely exists in the real world and certainly did not exist in the Detroit housing market throughout the 1960s. Black Detroiters were severely limited in terms of the neighborhoods in which they could live. Black Detroiters faced the threat of violence for moving into a white neighborhood and were denied access to capital through red lining. Worse still, white neighborhoods frequently lost their access to capital if a black Detroiter were to somehow break through the color line. The result of these policies is that black Detroiters were isolated, disproportionately poor, and paid extortionate prices for low-quality housing. By 1968, 93 percent of Detroit’s black population was concentrated within one continuous ghetto.

Detroit’s “housing investments” of the ‘50s and ‘60s exacerbated this problem by removing tens of thousands of housing units from mostly black neighborhoods. By the summer of 1967, Detroit’s “housing” and “infrastructure” investments had displaced over 170,000 black residents. Between 1950 and 1970 over 36,000 low-income housing units were destroyed under Detroit redevelopment. Within the same period 15,494 units were built, but only three percent of these structures were available to black Detroiters. In fact, one of the “housing” investments referenced by Glaeser comprised the wholesale razing of one of Detroit’s few black neighborhoods, Paradise Valley or “Black Bottom.”

The “infrastructure” and “housing” investments of urban renewal were a part of Detroit’s massive “slum clearance” initiative, in which neighborhoods were arbitrarily declared slums (Detroit’s definition of “slum” comprised neighborhoods being multi-use or having “inconsistent” style of dwellings). After a neighborhood was pronounced a “slum,” it would lose access to any capital that was previously available. The neighborhood would begin to empty out as individuals and businesses of means fled, mostly to the suburbs. This effect was the self-fulfilling “wet blanket” of redevelopment, in which urban renewal would create or reinforce the very slums it was meant to eradicate. Eventually, all the neighborhood’s property would be bought up at depressed rates via eminent domain, all occupants would be evicted, the neighborhood would be razed, and the land would be sold at a discount to private developers for single-use development.

This is the notorious Title I scheme of the 1949 Housing Act. Under Title I, removal was not permitted unless those removed had access to adequate housing. Unfortunately, however, Title I did not specify how cities should accomplish the goal of providing alternative adequate housing. In response to this requirement, Detroit, like most cities at the time, simply maintained that it could be fully expected that those removed would have access to adequate housing through the private market. Such an expectation was absurd, of course, given  the obvious low-income housing shortage (to which redevelopment projects consistently added to by razing thousands of low-income units).The federal government did not question the city’s rationale and consistently provided funding.

Detroit’s urban renewal program was not merely a series of foolhardy housing and infrastructure investments made by a desperate and declining city. Instead, urban renewal was yet another contributing force of the systematic isolation and degradation of black Detroiters and their neighborhoods.


Each dot represents 25 residents. Blue are black residents, red are white, orange are Hispanic

Sources: Income Graphic from Rich Blocks Poor Blocks, Race Graphic Eric Fischer

The lesson of Detroit is not that infrastructure and housing investments are foolish ones for a struggling city to make, but rather that it is foolish to arbitrarily exclude 25 percent of your city’s population from the mainstream economy, to isolate them geographically, to deny them access to capital, to destroy their neighborhoods, and to force them into smaller and smaller spaces with worse and worse quality of housing that is becoming more and more expensive. The lesson of Detroit is that it is foolish for a city to embrace policies that rip up the urban fabric, that it is foolish for a city to attempt to compartmentalize all of its functions, and that it is foolish for a city to invest in infrastructure and housing policies that quickens the flow of residents into the suburbs  The result of these policies is the Detroit we see today: an infrastructure-poor, disproportionately black, and disproportionately impoverished city that is isolated from the affluence and tax revenues of its sprawling suburbs. This fate was brought about not by a loss of some all important “entrepreneurial culture” but by the wholesale embrace of racist and anti-urban ideals.

Having an entrepreneurial culture is surely a good thing. It is hard to argue with Glaeser when he states that we have under-invested in the human capital of our cities, and that having a well-educated people is preferable to a poorly educated people. It is also no doubt true that it is preferable to live in a society that is capable of taking risks and is not shackled by unnecessary regulation. But it is wrong to argue or suggest that a weak entrepreneurial culture is the core problem facing Detroit and that this is the problem that brought Detroit to its current troubled state. Glaeser rightly reminds us that healthy cities are places of competition and innovation, but he must be reminded that the details matter in how such competition and innovation was snuffed out of Detroit. It is not as simple a story as he would lead us to believe.

–By Chad Hughes

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A Tent in Lansing and the American Stuggle

Union members tearing down a Koch Brothers (Americans for Prosperity) tent in front of the Michigan Statehouse. A Fox News anchor getting punched in the face. Was there ever a better metaphor for the central struggle in America right now?

As someone who was born 10 miles from the state border, I just can’t imagine Michigan

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without unions. It would be hard to recognize.


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Will Ohio Go “Blue” Tomorrow?

Horse race journalism! Not even non-journalist bloggers without advertisers can resist it!

All kidding aside though, if I was a national political observer I would be watching Issues 2 and 3 in Ohio’s election tomorrow with interest.

Issue 2 seeks to repeal Governor Kasich’s Senate Bill 5, which restricts the collective bargaining rights of public sector workers.

I am going to go out on a limb here but I would bet my Netflix subscription that this one is going down in flames. Governor Kasich and his henchmen in Columbus could write a law requiring that fetuses wear tiaras and get away with it. But try to horn in on teachers and policemen’s salary and pensions? Forgetaboutit. The Ohio Federation of Teachers has been calling the shots in Ohio since long before Kasich came on the scene. These people are going to get out and vote. (They’ve already visited my house twice.)

Anyway, when this inevitably fails, it is going to be a major setback for Kasich’s whole agenda and could bode poorly for him in 2014 (we can hope).

Meanwhile, I’m actually more interested to see the results of Issue 3, which would repeal “Obamacare” in Ohio. How grumpy and old (and hence covered by Medicare) are Ohio’s voters? How receptive are they to reforms put forward by the Obama administration?

This one worries me because Ohio voters are most certainly grumpy and old. On the other hand, the employment situation in this state is so bleak, there has to be a certain percentage of the population that is willing to gamble their medical-bill bankrupted futures on another course of action.

My point is, if Ohio votes down Senate Bill 5 and upholds Obama’s healthcare reform measures, that would bode well for Obama in 2012. If both issues are successful, that’s bad news for Kasich and bad news for Obama.


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A First Person Account from Occupy Pittsburgh

Photo: Karen Lillis

By Karen Lillis

On October 15, I marched with Occupy Pittsburgh, the city’s first action in solidarity with Occupy Wall Street. I watched excitedly as the crowd grew throughout the day, building from a modest gathering when my partner and I arrived at Freedom Corner at 10:00 a.m., to a rally in the low thousands by the time the march reached Market Square at 1:00 p.m. In sharp contrast to national anti-Occupy jeers against the “dirty hippies” and stereotypes of black-clad anarchists, a broad spectrum of the population showed up to march. College students and parents with small children. Union members and nine-to-fivers. Retirees and laid-off workers. Voters and tax-payers. The underclass and the working class and the middle class and self-identified members of the 1%. At one point I found myself between an old man in a motorized wheelchair and a young girl being pulled in a wagon.

I also noticed who didn’t show up to the march. My friends and many acquaintances in Pittsburgh are artists and writers, musicians and freelancers, actors and librarians, small business owners and academics. Most are progressives and free-thinkers who exist well left of the current Democratic party. But I saw less than 20 people I knew in the four hours I spent with the demonstrators. The first two folks I recognized were a barista and a waiter who have both served me food and drink. “Hurray for service workers!,” I thought, having spent almost two decades of my working years in restaurants or retail.

Read the rest at Annals of Americus

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