Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Steel Hunkies

I'm pondering today what is different than forty, fifty years ago. The steel mills produced more than jobs then. Men made good livings. They had benefits and generous perks if you worked hard, and long. As I mentioned a couple years ago, my father had the thirteen week vacation every four years. He only enjoyed it once because of his accident causing early retirement. But even on the off years, paid one month vacation could be used.
I had a teacher in high school, who talked about the lure of the steel mill. Many of his generation worked the summers, making money to pay for their college. The end of the steel era may have been in sight when Jerry talked about this in the mid seventies, but the few years earlier, it was not. He chose to be a school teacher, not because of better pay, but because he wanted to teach. Many at the mill could not understand this, he shared. The mill paid very well and teaching, then, did not.
My friend married a man who did not want a factory job. He wanted to wear a suit every day, not be covered in soot and grime. He left New Castle area for a good paying job in a factory in Massachusetts in the early 1980's. Soon, though, he left that to be a car salesman and moving back here, he still is.
My husband in 1980, would have been contented to have left school and work as my father did in a steel mill. By then, the mills had ground themselves to the ground, to this day, not back to former glory. He enjoys producing a product, coming home and enjoying family. The Navy provided discipline and a trade of electrician.
Is it our generation throw back to the dreams of our parents who wanted more for their children? We all expect our children to get that career to change the world. Yet, many don't want their children to leave the Valley. Kids feel the pressure to perform, now. What about the ones who want to stay near family? The steel mills are gone. The Steel hunkies are no more.
They are told to get a college education. They are told they can do anything. I feel for those, who go to college and find this isn't for them. They cannot come back to the steel mills. They haven't for years. We lost many to Texas and other states providing jobs, that our valleys couldn't sustain.
Now, the kids have to do retail jobs or fast food. I am not against education or bettering oneself, but I wonder if we have expected our children to walk on water and set them up for failure?  I see so many leave college after a year or two. Even if they graduate, the careers they have studied for are not readily available.
I'm just wondering where have the Steel Hunkies gone? We have no equivalent for the comfortable producing lifestyle where we can dream better things for our children.

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