Good news at the Point

November 21, 1994

One of the most powerful undercurrents of the 1994 election could be found one week after the vote in a front-page story in The Evening Sun: Bethlehem Steel's Sparrows Point mill was taking job applications for the first time in 15 years.

People can search for all sorts of meanings and motives in last week's political shift -- about "angry white men," the conservative tide, a Clinton backlash, a longing for bedrock values. But it's the seismic diminution of the industrial base over the past generation that has helped shake the underpinnings of many middle-class families.

You didn't have to set the world afire in high school before, you didn't have to attend college and you could still find good work to raise a family on a single wage. In the service-based economy we have now, a college degree doesn't guarantee a person financial well-being; a lack of a degree makes it tough to get a good-paying job. Service jobs make up three-quarters of American employment. Meanwhile, manufacturing and farming jobs have shrunk to less than half their rate of 40 years ago.

So when Bethlehem Steel put out the word it is looking to fill 200 jobs with wage rates between $11 and $17 an hour, it was besieged with 4,500 inquiries. In similar positive developments in eastern Baltimore County: The work force at Beth Steel's shipyard will be up to 1,000 soon, five times what it was just three months ago, and Martin-Marietta Corp. in Middle River just won a nearly-$300 million contract to build rocket launchers.

That's good news for a Maryland economy that has had its share of bad news in recent years in the manufacturing sector. It's also good news for many of the families living in the industrial communities that hug Chesapeake Bay, places like Dundalk and Highlandtown, where residents voted big for Ellen Sauerbrey because they were fed up with the Democratic leadership they had supported lock-step in the past. Also in places like northern Anne Arundel County, where a lone Republican legislator was once a quaint novelty, but where newly elected GOP representatives will now dominate.

Voters undoubtedly wanted a change in direction, but the biggest concern of most people isn't a line-item veto and term limits. What Americans seek is a return to economic security founded on a vigorous industrial base.

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