Thursday, February 5
I am talking to a man about disposable diapers, the ones babies wear. This man knows a lot about diapers, because he once worked in a diaper factory. He worked there for over a decade, until last year when the plant shut down and moved its operations to Mexico. He says it was something about how, all of a sudden, it became too expensive to make diapers in western Pennsylvania. I figure it was more like something about how, all of a sudden, somebody figured out how to make a hell of a lot more money making diapers in Mexico.
Color me cynical, but I’ve seen it before. The small town where I live, and that I’ve represented in the Pennsylvania State House for the past eighteen years, was once a center for manufacturing. In its heyday Ellwood City, which is located about thirty-five miles north of Pittsburgh, employed more than twice as many steelworkers (over 17,000 during World War II) as its present total population of 8,200.
Steel moved to Brazil, and Panama, and Korea, and…
We found a lamp manufacturer to move into the empty building. The new lamp-makers didn’t pay as well as the old steel-makers, but 600 jobs was, well, 600 jobs. I say was because those lamps are now made in China.
Like I said, color me cynical, but diapers made in Mexico does not surprise me. Right now, however, the man whose life depended on those diapers is desperate. He does not want a history lesson. He wants a job, and he wants me to help him find one. I wish I could. All I can do is listen to him, as I’ve listened to so many others like him who come to me believing (hoping?) I can get them a job. I know that when he’s finished, I will tell him I can’t get him a job, even though that’s not what he wants to hear. He’s already been betrayed enough by his government, even though he may not know it, so the last thing I want to do is give him false hope, which means I must tell him the truth–that despite whatever he may have been told by a neighbor, or cousin, or buddy at the pool hall, there are no state highway department jobs available. In fact, there are no state jobs available in any department. I skip the part about Pennsylvania having the lowest ratio of state employees per capita in the nation and about how the recession has forced our governor, Edward Rendell, to try to reduce the payroll even more and yadda, yadda, yadda. Somehow, I doubt if knowing that would make him feel much better.