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The former lives of steelworkers

Back in the steel days, Braddock's main drag was lined with supermarkets, movie theaters and ethnic groceries. This pawn shop is one of the few businesses left. A few blocks down is a former catholic school that's been converted into art gallery space -- right across the street from one of the region's last remaining steel mills. Braddock's Mayor hopes to turn the town into a haven for artists.

Former steelworker Raymond Henderson in the backyard of his home in Braddock, PA, just outside Pittsburgh. During Pittsburgh's steel heyday in the 1950s and '60s, Braddock was home to over 20,000 people. Today there are around 2,000.

TEXT OF INTERVIEW

TESS VIGELAND: The G-20 conference descended on Pittsburgh this week. Lots of talk about free trade, financial regulation and global economic growth. That last topic would probably perk up the ears of the nearly 10 percent Americans who are out of work. Especially the ones with a front row seat in Pittsburgh. The decline of that city's steel industry left it with horrific unemployment levels.

Marketplace's Rico Gagliano spoke with two former steel workers about what happened when their careers vanished.


Leader: We are the steel workers!

Demonstrators: We are the steel workers!

Leader: Mighty might steel workers.

Demonstrators: Mighty might steel workers.

Raymond Henderson: I am Raymond Henderson. My age is 69, and I used to be a steel worker.

Greg Mowry: My name is Greg Mowry and I was a former steel worker at Homestead Works in Pittsburgh, Pa. for 23 years.

Rico Gagliano:What was in like when the mills closed?

Mowry: It was terribly sad to come past and see the buildings just standing was worse than having them torn down.

Henderson: You know, I had buddies that committed suicide. Then there were other guys that just decided they were going to drink and do drugs. I was a different breed, I guess. It was just a process, I knew it was going to take place and I knew I had to deal with it, one way or the other.

Mowry: I was actually on unemployment. I ran my unemployment and everything out and I actually started working with my brother-in-law. Construction. We were going weeks at a time, we'd come home for a weekend every month and my wife had to go to work. She never had worked up until that time.

Henderson: Oh yeah, my wife worked. That helped. Then after about a year, I decided I had to go out here and find a job somewhere. Well they had a benefit through the steel industry and the federal government that would allow you to go back to school to reeducate yourself and it was like a two year program. I became a social worker.

Mowry: I did actually go to auto mechanics, got a degree in that. But there was 100,000 people in this valley that lost their jobs at the same time, so it was very difficult to find any kind of work at all.

Henderson: As a steel worker, I was making something like $50,000-$60,000 a year. When I got a new job, it went down to about $23,000-$24,000 a year.

Mowry: I have a home in South Carolina and I've been renting it by the year, so my tenants are basically paying my mortgage for me. It worked out well -- knock on wood. That's one of the good things that happened my life. I actually am receiving a pension from U.S. Steel of $500 a month.

Henderson: I still get my pension, but it's nothing that I didn't earn. I earned that pension. And it's not a large amount neither, but it's just something that I earn and I just figured, if I live to be 70, I might get even with these guys. You know they don't pay you until the end of the month and they check the obituaries before they send you your paycheck.

Vigeland: Former steel workers Raymond Henderson and Greg Mowry, speaking in Pittsburgh with Rico Gagliano.

About the author

Rico Gagliano is the host of Dinner Party Download.

Former steelworker Raymond Henderson in the backyard of his home in Braddock, PA, just outside Pittsburgh. During Pittsburgh's steel heyday in the 1950s and '60s, Braddock was home to over 20,000 people. Today there are around 2,000.

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