The Great Lakes region has suffered from the loss of industrial jobs but may regain its status as the economic powerhouse of the United States, seven witnesses said at a congressional hearing held in Lorain.
On October 18, the House of Representatives Select Committee on Economic Disparities and Equity in Growth held a field hearing at El Centro de Servicios Sociales Inc., 2800 Pearl Ave., South Lorain.
The program was called “Renewing Prosperity in the Industrial Heart: An Economic Agenda for Forgotten Communities”.
“It’s no accident,” said representative Jim Himes, D-Connecticut, chairman of the committee. “Midwestern communities like Lorain are the birthplace of American industry. Products and goods made here and in the Midwest have long supported this country and its people and helped strengthen America’s place in the international economy. But too often the voices of these communities are not heard by those in places like Washington. “
The assembled representatives shared their own views on stimulating the Midwestern economy to revive cities like Lorain.
The hearing took place in the district of Rep. Marcy Kaptur, D-Toledo. She welcomed Himes and the rest of the committee, Rep. Gwen Moore, D-Wisconsin; Rep. Bryan Steil of Wisconsin, the prominent Republican committee member; and Representative Warren Davidson, a Republican from Troy, Ohio.
They spent over an hour reviewing the testimony and questioning seven witnesses present.
Richard Cain, a 45-year-old steelworker and vice-president of United Steelworkers Local 1104, said that aside from five years in the early 1980s, he was fortunate not to spend much time unemployed in the during his career.
But too many of his fellow metallurgists have been at the forefront of deindustrialization, globalization and the lack of domestic investment in manufacturing, Cain said.
Lorain is a great example of economic disparity, Cain said.
In its early days, Lorain’s steel industry employed 10,000 workers. Now Cain is one of 60 in the Republic Steel bar mill plant.
Since 1997, the country has lost 91,000 manufacturing plants and nearly 5 million jobs, Cain said. This leads to long-term systemic displacement in communities like Lorain, and the lack of attention from lawmakers makes the situation worse, he said.
The business thrives
Steel production remains strong for Cleveland-Cliffs Inc., said Lourenco Goncalves, president and CEO of the company which has more than 25,000 workers in Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Minnesota. , and in other states.
The unions representing steelmakers are partners of the company, which works first for employees, their families and communities, second for customers and third for shareholders, Gonçalves said.
He tore up the “false gospel of free trade” which has greatly contributed to the shrinking of America’s middle class. Working class communities have lost jobs due to the North American Free Trade Agreement and China’s entry into the World Trade Organization, along with other flawed and devastating trade policies, did he declare.
America has exported jobs and economic power and, in return, gets cheap goods, global pollution and hollowed out communities, Gonçalves said.
The mission of community colleges in the United States is to provide equitable access to affordable and relevant vocational training, said Marcia Ballinger, president of Lorain County Community College. She proposed three strategies to consider.
The LCCC uses learning and earning models with courses and jobs for students, partnering with industries to make their training apply to jobs.
The short-term training at the LCCC grew out of the novel coronavirus pandemic, Ballinger said. The college has launched more than 35 accelerated programs with degrees aligned with industry jobs, she said.
Ballinger encouraged members of Congress to extend Pell Grants for short-term programs at community colleges. Affordability – not just tuition, but the cost of transportation, child care, utilities and housing – is always an issue for marginalized workers, she said.
Lorain Mayor Jack Bradley pitted economic development against economic growth.
Economic development based on exhaustible reserves of natural resources will eventually come to a halt. Cities that depend on a single industry are sensitive to economic changes they cannot control, Bradley said.
In the 1970s, Lorain’s population was approximately 78,000 people. With the industry gone, residents move out if they can, leaving a core of abandoned residential, commercial and industrial properties, Bradley said.
He noted that Republic Steel has restarted production in Lorain, but that’s a far cry from the thousands of people who once worked in the steel mills. Bradley cited a number of great manufacturers who are now part of Lorain’s story because they are gone.
As America recovers from the economic effects of the novel coronavirus pandemic, workers of color need opportunities, said Dee Baker, director of outreach and civic engagement for the Lorain County Urban League.
The agency aims to help clients increase their income, secure housing and become financially stable using a holistic approach to coaching with appropriate services, Baker said.
Lorain County faces the same devastating fate as other Rust Belt communities, Baker said. The effects of globalization have been made worse by COVID-19, especially for low-income workers of color, she said.
Baker described working with a couple who cried for joy when they improved their work and life situation. Workforce development is absolutely important to the economic empowerment of African Americans and the historically underserved, she said.
The economic disparities and inequalities are real, said Pat Choate, director of the Manufacturing Policy Project.
From the days of the Great Depression to 1981, the U.S. economy focused on fairness with one standard of living, Choate said.
There is now an income gap, America’s coasts are thriving and other parts of the country are lagging behind, he said.
From 1981 until today, the nation has focused on efficiency, which has manifested itself in trade, financial and intellectual property policies, Choate said.
There are still great opportunities for American workers and businesses, Choate said. People need to recognize this, Choate said, suggesting differences in policies ranging from trade to climate change.
Shay Hawkins, president and CEO of the Opportunity Funds Association, said he would aggressively discourage tax increases on small businesses and workers, especially those in minority jobs. The tax code is also key to reindustrializing the Midwest, he said. The committee also watched video testimony from Majorie Chambers of Cleveland, a 47-year United Auto Workers member, and Wayne Blanchard of Toledo, who described how automation has changed the nature of car building.