Rust belt?

中国日报网 2016-11-22 12:32



Rust belt?Reader question:

Please explain this headline, “Rust Belt” in particular:

Hillary Clinton faces challenge: Black voters in Rust Belt (Associated Press, March 19, 2016).

My comments:

This story examines the problem Hillary Clinton faces with black voters in Midwestern America, voters who, like their white counterparts, want the old manufacturing jobs back. Those jobs were high-paying and therefore the real jobs to seek.

This AP story has proved to be prescient. As we now know, Clinton lost her election to Donald Trump even though Clinton had been viewed by many as a clear favorite.

Also, as this story presciently foretells, Clinton lost due, among other reasons, mostly to lack of votes along the rust belt, a vast swath of areas in middle and western America, areas known for its traditional manufacturing industries (Think of Pittsburg for its steel and Detroit for its cars).

Due to globalization and free trade (think of NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Area between America, Canada and Mexico), these old industrial centers have seen its manufacturing jobs go to Mexico and elsewhere including, “China”, as Trump was wont to say and repeat saying.

Anyways, the rust belt refers to an old industrial base where the conveyor belt and assembly lines (Think of Modern Times, the movie by Charlie Chaplin) have been abandoned and laid to waste. They have been abandoned for so long that the conveyor belts have begun to gather rust – or become rusty.

I’m not sure whether this is where the phrase “rust belt” originates, but the rusty conveyor belt image cannot be mistaken. It’s real. At any rate, the rusty conveyor belt image will surely help you remember this phrase.

All right, no more ado. Let’s read more stories online to get a better feel of the proverbial “rust belt”:

1. RUST BELT refers to an economic region of the United States concentrated in the formerly dominant industrial states of Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. By the 1980s, the Rust Belt became what the Dust Bowl had been to an earlier generation—a symbolic name for a devastating economic change. The 1984 Democratic presidential candidate, Walter Mondale, is generally credited with coining the term. During the campaign, Mondale, the former vice president from Minnesota, attacked the economic policies of incumbent Republican president, Ronald Regan, stating that the president was “turning our great industrial Midwest and the industrial base of this country into a rust bowl.” The media, however, repeated and reported the notion as “Rust Belt,” and the phrase stuck as a good description of the declining industrial heartland, especially the steel-and automobile-producing regions in the Northeast and Midwest. The phrase became synonymous with industrial decline in the once-dominant U.S. heavy manufacturing and steel industries.

The Rust Belt has indefinite boundaries, although in 1979 Joel Garreau dubbed the same general region the “Foundry.” Both terms aptly characterized the region’s economic history and underpinnings. Readily available coal, labor, and inland waterways made the region ideal for steel manufacturing. Moreover, the automotive industry—a major buyer of steel—developed nearby. In the 1970s and 1980s, however, the U.S. steel industry rapidly fell from world dominance. The U.S. worldwide market share of manufactured steel went from 20 percent in 1970 to 12 percent by 1990, and American employment in the industry dropped from 400,000 to 140,000 over the same period. Starting in the late 1970s, steel factories began closing. Among the hardest hit of the communities was Youngstown, Ohio, where the closure of three steel mills starting in 1977 eliminated nearly 10,000 high-paying jobs. Also hurt were foundries in Buffalo, New York; and Johnstown and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where the last outmoded steel plant closed in the late 1980s.

Although thirty-five states produce steel, the large steel plants in the Rust Belt faced particularly hard times because they relied upon large, unprofitable, and outdated open-hearth furnaces. Many were sulfur-burning, coal-fired plants, which had difficulty meeting stringent environmental regulations on smokestack emissions. Layoffs occurred even as worldwide demand for steel grew. Other countries, in particular Japan, met this demand with lower-cost and sometimes higher-quality steel. The American steel industry rebounded by developing low-cost, highly automated minimills, which used electric arc furnaces to turn scrap metal into wire rod and bar products, but the minimills employed fewer workers.

The region had been the nation's industrial heartland and contained many large, densely populated urban areas. These cities, which began showing signs of decline, initially had served as a destination for early European immigrants and tremendous numbers of African Americans who migrated north to join the industrial workforce following World War II. Industrial decline, however, permanently eliminated thousands of well-paid, benefit-laden, blue-collar jobs. Many families left the Rust Belt and relocated to the Sun Belt and the West, seeking jobs and better living conditions. The black populations in the Chicago and Pittsburgh metropolitan areas declined, reversing earlier patterns of northward migration from the Deep South. The population shift meant fewer congressional representatives from the region following the 1990 reapportionment.

- Rust Belt,

2. The decision by President George Bush to impose steel import tariffs may be a betrayal of his proclaimed free trade instinct, and a flashpoint for a possible international trade war. But in domestic political terms, they make perfect sense.

As the former House Speaker Tip O’Neill famously remarked: “All politics is local.” In the case of steel, Mr Bush is less concerned with providing more fuel for foreign critics of American unilateralism, than in shoring his own and his party’s prospects at elections, above all in a handful of traditional steel industry states which could hold the key for victory.

In eight months, Mr Bush’s Republicans go into Congressional elections in which the stakes could not be higher. A gain of one seat will give them back control of the Senate. If they lose just six seats in the House, the Democrats would regain the majority there they lost in 1994. Analysts say at least six seats in 2002 could be decided by the steel issue in the former “rust belt”, most notably in Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia. In 2004 these states could decide Mr Bush’s future tenure of the White House.

Last time around, Mr Bush carried Ohio, but narrowly lost Pennsylvania. Most crucial of all was West Virginia, formerly a Democratic stronghold, but whose five electoral votes gave Mr Bush his tiny electoral college majority, not least because of the local steel and coal industry’s fear of the environmental policies of Al Gore.

- Bush steel tariffs can win crucial ‘rust belt’ votes,, March 6, 2002.

3. The rust-belt rebellion that is propelling Donald Trump into the White House has been a long time building. The fact that it surprised so many politicians and pundits only shows the unbridged canyon between the urban elites who thrive on the globalised economy and the millions of Americans who live in its wreckage.

A decade ago, even before the 2008 recession, I interviewed workers in Dayton, Ohio, where Delphi, the global auto parts maker, was about to close four of its five plants and lay off 5,700 workers. I found some of them toying with the ideas of Lyndon LaRouche, a fringe, leftwing demagogue.

In my book about Dayton and other hollowed-out old industrial cities, I warned: “Globalisation is made to order for demagogues. By its nature, it exposes the vulnerable to distant and mysterious forces. It enriches a new class of global citizens, but undermines a way of life for middle-class workers who can’t understand what is happening to them and don’t feel they deserve it. This is not the way life was supposed to be, and they seek someone to blame.”

Dayton is in Montgomery County, which voted for Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012. This year, only seven of Ohio’s 88 counties stayed Democratic. Montgomery wasn’t one of them. Like dozens of industrial counties across the midwest, it gave its votes – and thus the election – to Trump.

- Disaffected rust belt voters embraced Trump. They had no other hope, by Richard C Longworth,, November 21, 2016.


About the author:

Zhang Xin is Trainer at He has been with China Daily since 1988, when he graduated from Beijing Foreign Studies University. Write him at:, or raise a question for potential use in a future column.

(作者:张欣 编辑:丹妮)

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