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Places Left Behind

A Look at Economies of Communities in the Northeast

Here is a look at some of the economies of communities in the Northeast, released today by the Department of Housing and Urban Development to accompany a HUD report issued by President Clinton on places left behind in the region.


Lawrence continues to have high unemployment and poverty rates. City services are strained and there is heavy demand for job training. There is a large inventory of underutilized real estate (including former mill and industrial sites). While the suburbs and surrounding areas are faring comparatively better, the inner core of the city has lost much of its former economic power. The city has never recovered from the exodus of the textile industry. Although located on the Merrimack River and Interstate 495 (Boston Beltway) its size (only 6 square miles) and density (commercial and housing) have made it very difficult to attract private industry and jobs. There is still a large inventory of vacant and underutilized real estate, primarily mill buildings. The city has a high minority population (primarily Hispanic), which continues to grow. Poverty rates are high, almost the entire city is eligible for low- and moderate-income housing programs, and the workforce is largely unskilled. Unemployment rates also are high, and the rate of homeownership is very low. Crime is a significant issue with arson and real estate abuses such as block-busting taking a major toll during the past decade. Many of these issues are being addressed with public funds and programs, and while progress has been made, significant challenges remain.

New Bedford has suffered problems of the exodus of employment sources over the years. The whaling and fishing industries supported the prominence and growth of New Bedford during the early and mid 1800s. Following the demise of the whaling fleets, a much scaled down fishing industry was joined by the industrial revolution, which brought textiles to New Bedford. The area did reasonably well until manufacturing began shifting elsewhere (in search of cheaper labor), leaving New Bedford with many empty mill buildings around the 1940s. Even though its seacoast location and prominent harbor have been very advantageous to its survival, its land transportation access has always been difficult and an issue. The ruggedness and survival nature of the fishing industry, however, has seemed to spawn hope and innovation. Although there is a significant amount of mill space and old cleared industrial space, a considerable amount is being used by small local companies and industries. There is rich architectural heritage that has buoyed tourism (based on the history of the whaling industry) and real estate activity recently. This has made a significant contribution to the economic welfare of the area.


Jersey City was once a very busy railroad terminus and manufacturing area. By about 1960, most of the rail activity had left, leaving behind a very depressed economy and a city in decline. Since the mid-1980's, there has been an almost complete transformation of the city, aided by considerable governmental assistance. Recent years have seen the construction of many high-rise residential and office buildings.

Newark has suffered one of the most severe population declines in America. It had a 39 percent drop from 1930 to 1998. Physically, the city has not fully recovered from the 1967 rioting in which whole neighborhoods were almost destroyed despite a substantial volume of new housing. Neighborhood redevelopment is producing a moderate employment increase for the less skilled, but the bulk of jobs in the local labor market are skilled clerical and technical positions, many of which are held by commuters. Due to technological change and low educational level, city residents occupy few of the better jobs. In addition, Newark's hard times are partially caused by increasing deterioration of the housing stock, flight to the suburbs, huge job losses, and limited developable land. From 1950 to 1996, Newark's private employment declined by 44.5% , including 82.5 % in manufacturing which had been the city's strength. Neighborhood development is producing a moderate employment increase for the less skilled, but the bulk of jobs in the local labor market are clerical and technical and held by commuters. Due to low educational level, city residents occupy few of the better jobs.

Trenton, the state capital, has lost a tremendous manufacturing base, and contains many distressed former manufacturing and industrial sites. One of its major redevelopment priorities is brownfield redevelopment. The industrial job loss and solid suburban growth have deprived the city of workers. State government and hospitals are the only major employers.


Newburgh saw its most significant growth following World War II when it was a commercial and manufacturing hub within the Hudson Valley. Over the next 40 years though, Newburgh experienced major industrial dislocation accompanied by economic decline. Between 1960 and 1990, the departure of manufacturing and commercial establishments with deep roots in the community had a particularly severe effect. A precipitous decline in retail and service establishments occurred, together with an exodus of long-time residents, particularly in age groups entering the work force. The City of Newburgh, however, experienced several unique misfortunes as well. The Newburgh-Beacon Bridge spanning the Hudson River, completed in 1963, bypassed the City of Newburgh, thereby accelerating the decline of its downtown business district. Much of the downtown area was demolished by urban renewal in the late 1960's. The closing of Stewart Air Force Base in 1969 was another severe blow to the economy of the city. Newburgh's downtown waterfront area is being developed for use by restaurants and other retail establishments. In addition, the historic district is being upgraded to contribute to heritage tourism.


Johnstown: The local economy traditionally was based on coal mining and steel production, while being a small regional trade center in central Pennsylvania. In 1960, 10,631 persons were employed in mining and 27,949 in manufacturing. By contrast, in 1998 there were 4,400 persons employed in mining, and manufacturing had dropped to 13,100. While total employment in the area rose from 84,799 in 1960 to 95,800 in 1998, this was only a 13% increase over a 38-year period and the increases have been primarily in low-paying jobs. As a result, the local economy has lost significant purchasing power. Further, as good jobs declined, young people left the area, compounding the impact.

Erie provides Pennsylvania its only access to the Great Lakes. Because of its location, manufacturing was the dominant component of the area's economy until the late 1980's. Local manufacturers included such companies as General Electric, Zurn Industries, American Sterilizer, International Paper, Plastek Industries and GTE North. In 1960, there were 36,000 manufacturing jobs, representing about 46 percent of the employment in the county. Beginning in 1974, the manufacturing sector experienced a severe recession that lasted until the 1980s and caused the loss of over 10,000 high-paying jobs. While nonmanufacturing jobs have increased slowly, the local economy lost significant and so far unrecovered purchasing power. Manufacturing employment has remained about 35,000 since 1982. It currently represents about 25 percent of the local employment. Thus, manufacturing employment levels have remained unchanged since 1960.

Content Archived: January 20, 2009

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