a view of a grim economic future: Braddock

The stimulus package that’s moving through the Federal legislative process is – at least theoretically – designed to prevent the kind of long, painful malaise that gripped the US in the 1970s. Whether or not it will work remains to be seen, but something needs to be done. I spent some time this weekend reading about a town named Braddock, just outside of Pittsburgh.  As mentioned in one of the articles below, it is a city that some of the fastest-dying cities in our country might want to look to as a warning.  What it tells us, I don’t know – except that the fate of this city is one that we should do everything to avoid.

The state has classified it a “distressed municipality” — bankrupt, more or less — since the Reagan administration. The tax base is gone. So are most of the residents. The population, about 18,000 after World War II, has declined to less than 3,000. Many of those who remain are unemployed. Real estate prices fell 50 percent in the last year.

“Everyone in the country is asking, ‘Where’s the bottom?’ ” said the mayor, John Fetterman. “I think we’ve found it.”  (from this article at the Times)

The article in the Times quoted above and this one from CBS are disturbing but the Times video (click through to the article and the link to the video is on the left hand side) is the most chilling. Knowing that cities like this – almost post-apocalyptic in look and feel – is terrifying to me.  I saw cities like Braddock when I lived in Russia in the mid-90s; abject poverty, lawlessness, physical collapse and above all hopelessness.  Russia didn’t have the ability in the mid-90s to throw together a stimulus package like we can today.  Their infrastructure and political structure had declined so badly that even if help had been offered to the dying cities of Russia it wouldn’t have reached them.

More video:

The website set up by the mayor, and mentioned in the New York Times article, gives one an idea of the way out. Honesty and the tiniest steps forward – bringing small businesses like Fossil Free Fuel to town.   There are still severe problems besides just the economics of the town, as this video shows:

We are all worried about the stimulus package, whether we support it or not. Is it needed?  Is it aimed at the right parts of our economy?  Does it include too much pointless spending?  Can we afford it?  How will it permanently change our economy?  And most importantly, even if everything works exactly as intended, how will we ever pay this money back?  But the one thing I hope everyone can agree on is that there is a future in which parts of America – large parts – look like Braddock, and trying to avoid that is better than nothing.  Nobody wants their hometown to look like that.  Nobody.

5 comments

  • Wow, good stuff. Thanks for highlighting this article and the video too. It's spooky and the first place it made me think of is Detroit. Steel industry back then and the auto industry now. I sure hope not because I know a lot of good people over there and that would be terrible.

  • stretchydollar

    I agree, no one wants their hometown to look like that.It's such a rough situation because there are so many different ways to look at these 'stimulus packages.' If we do do them, someone's gotta pay it back, if we don't towns like this just go under and fade away – I think the one thing that people need to take away from this (which, unfortunately I think most won't) is that sound financial principles win out over most anything else any day.

  • I grew up in Aliquippa, not far from Braddock. It was a company town; in 1906, the steel company came in, built a mill, and built a town for its workers to live in. I'm not quite sure when the mill closed; my father's job disappeared in the late 1970s. I overflew the area on changing planes in Pittsburgh in the mid-1990s; to my shock, the entire mill had been torn down (and sold for scrap metal), leaving a six-mile long sand bar along the Ohio River.

    Aliquippa was always gritty; a product at least in part of having the main street end at the gates of the steel mill (these were really dirty places back then). After the mill closed, it was not only gritty, but dying. The only ones left were old people with nowhere else to go, and the young without a good choice in the matter.

  • Chad @ Sentient Money

    Not shocking at all. I grew up in western Pennsylvania. Half of the western side of the state looks like that, along with good portions of Ohio. It has looked like that for 20 years…this isn't new.

    Curmudgeon is dead on. The only ones left are old people and the young, with no real choices or at least believe they have no real choices.

    Now with the auto industry toast, and it is, all of Ohio and Detroit will look this way. Essentially, there will be almost two entire states in this condition. This will happen in other parts of the country and eventually it will get bad enough that it will be cheaper to make stuff in the U.S. again.

    The cost of labor world wide is equalizing during this depression. China and India won't be the only ones with millions of workers at subsistance wages.

  • Chad @ Sentient Money

    Not shocking at all. I grew up in western Pennsylvania. Half of the western side of the state looks like that, along with good portions of Ohio. It has looked like that for 20 years…this isn't new.

    Curmudgeon is dead on. The only ones left are old people and the young, with no real choices or at least believe they have no real choices.

    Now with the auto industry toast, and it is, all of Ohio and Detroit will look this way. Essentially, there will be almost two entire states in this condition. This will happen in other parts of the country and eventually it will get bad enough that it will be cheaper to make stuff in the U.S. again.

    The cost of labor world wide is equalizing during this depression. China and India won't be the only ones with millions of workers at subsistance wages.