Ohio 17th District
For nearly a century, the Mahoning Valley, between the Lake Erie docks that unload iron ore from Great Lakes freighters and the coalfields of western Pennsylvania and West Virginia, was one of the steel capitals of the United States. The first coal mine opened in 1826, canals followed, and in 1892 the first steel mill was built in Youngstown. The valley soon filled up with mills, converters, and furnaces. Now the steel mills stand empty, smokeless and silent—except those that have been dynamited or torn down. Big-steel management allowed foreign producers to gain a technological edge in the 1950s and 1960s, and worldwide overcapacity in steel grew as almost every developing country decided it needed its own steel mills. Meanwhile, an agreement between the United Steelworkers and management after a 119-day strike in 1959 boosted wages and fringe benefits to levels that helped price domestic steel out of the market. Import restrictions kept the furnaces hot for a while, but the oil shock of the 1970s produced sharply higher energy prices and a collapse in the U.S. auto and steel markets. Every plant in the Mahoning Valley closed, with a loss of 40,000 jobs. In the early 1980s, Youngstown had one of the nation’s highest unemployment rates. From 1990 to 2004, the population of Youngstown’s Mahoning County declined by 6% and next-door Trumbull County’s by 3%. Steel has since revived, but not here. The high-wage living standard has vanished. Several aluminum plants opened in nearby Warren, but young people looking for opportunities routinely leave. In 2007, Youngstown’s population was 74,000, less than half its size in the 1950s. That same year the Census Bureau reported that Youngstown had the lowest median household income in the nation among cities with 65,000 to 250,000 people. Organized crime infiltrated local government, and a federal investigation in the late 1990s led to more than 70 convictions; among those sentenced were a prosecutor, a sheriff and a congressman. Today, Youngstown is struggling to rebound, though it has managed to attract a few high-tech firms, including the fast-growing Turning Technologies software company.
2008 Presidential Vote
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
The 17th Congressional District of Ohio encompasses most of the Mahoning Valley industrial area—Youngstown (though not its southern Mahoning County suburbs), Warren, and most of Trumbull County. It includes nearly all of Portage County to the west and part of eastern Summit County and Akron. It contains two loci of 1970s protest—Kent State University, where four war-protesting students were killed by National Guardsmen, and Lordstown, site of the General Motors plant where workers purposely built shoddy cars to protest the tedium of the assembly line. This is a Democratic district. It voted 63% for John Kerry in 2004, his second-best district in Ohio. In 2008, Democratic nominee Barack Obama did not fare quite as well among the district’s mostly white working-class voters, but his 62%-36% victory was comfortable enough.