With Pennsylvania emerging as a potential “battleground” state in the fall 2016 presidential contest, the Trump and Clinton campaigns are both claiming they will, if elected, revive the fortunes of the former steel towns along the Monongahela River.
Economically depressed Monessen, located 35 miles south of Pittsburgh, is a notable example.
What went wrong in places like Monessen? Many pundits falsely assume their steel production facilities succumbed to foreign competition alone.
However, as a New York Times article published on Independence Day explained, the “mills in Monessen and other cities along the Monongahela were not replaced by Chinese factories but by . . . more efficient factories in other parts of the country.” The fact is, roughly 71% of the steel “used last year in the United States was made in the United States, according to the American Iron and Steel Institute.” (Use the link below to read the entire article by Times D.C. correspondent Binyamin Appelbaum.)
And data from the U.S. Commerce Department’s Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) web site show America’s new metal manufacturing industry is located overwhelmingly in states that, unlike in Big Labor-controlled Pennsylvania, legally protect employees’ freedom to work without being forced to join or bankroll a union.
As recently as 2004, according to the BEA, just 27.0% of America’s $48.17 billion (in chained 2009 dollars) in primary-metals-manufacturing GDP emanated from the 22 states that then had Right to Work laws on the books.
By 2014, the most recent year for which data are available, the entire real U.S. primary-metals-manufacturing GDP had risen to $49.12 billion, or slightly less than 2%. And within just a decade, Right to Work states’ share of all U.S. primary-metals output had risen to 52.6%!
Right to Work states’ new dominance of metal-industry production and jobs is partly a consequence of the 2012 passage of Right to Work laws in two states, Indiana and Michigan, that are major producers.
But that’s far from the whole story. From 2004 to 2014, real primary-metals-manufacturing GDP in the 22 states that had Right to Work laws on the books for the whole decade rose by 23.1%, even as it fell by 13.5% in the 26 states that lacked Right to Work protections for the entire period.
The 10 states with the steepest percentage declines (California, Colorado, Delaware, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Rhode Island and Vermont) are all forced-unionism. With a 13.0% drop, Pennsylvania fared worse than all but one of the 22 Right to Work states.
The data strongly suggest Big Labor bosses’ counterproductive work rules and relentless “hate-the-boss” class warfare played a major role in the shriveling of the Pennsylvania steel industry over the past few decades. And they also indicate Keystone State lawmakers today could help attract job-creating businesses for their constituents by at last prohibiting forced union dues and fees as a condition of employment.