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.
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.