Erie Needs A Partner in the White House. Right Now, We Don't Have One.
How a Biden presidency may offer hope to northwest Pennsylvania's struggling economy
Four years ago, Donald Trump promised to restore prosperity to communities like Erie, where decades of conventional economic thinking failed the middle class. As president, he has broken that promise. At a time when Erie needs a partner in the White House, we do not have one.
I grew up in Erie. We are a vibrant, talented city with a storied history as a place where hardworking people could find good jobs to support a family. Decades ago, my grandmother and many of her relatives escaped Nazi aggression in Czechoslovakia to settle in Pennsylvania: first in Aliquippa, then in the prosperous Gem City. Erie's people are as talented and hard-working as they've ever been. But the economic opportunity that once drew them from all over Pennsylvania—and indeed, the world—is now gone.
Today, people in search of opportunity leave Erie for elsewhere. As the Erie Times reported in 2019, more than 7,100 Erieites moved away in the past decade. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics, the number of people employed in our metropolitan area has also fallen. In May 2020, around 110,000 people were working – that's 28,000 fewer than at the height of the late-90s boom. Local business people, civic leaders, and activists are working hard to revitalize Erie, but presidential leadership is absent.
Despite his promises, President Trump has produced neither ideas nor results. In January 2020, fewer people were working in Erie than when Trump took office. The statewide picture is similar. Fewer Pennsylvanians are working than at any time since the mid-1990s. Manufacturing, to which Trump has paid much rhetorical attention, went into recession months before COVID-19 and the ensuing shutdowns. According to Morning Call, some 8,000 manufacturing jobs were lost in 2019 alone. The president has failed to invest in America's workers and industries, and major employers cite his haphazard trade war—the rare policy against which the AFL-CIO and the Pennsylvania Manufacturers' Association can unite—as a significant driver of layoffs. I believe there is a better path.
Joe Biden's economic plans show that he is the partner Erie needs to build a new prosperity. As president and vice president, Biden and Kamala Harris will implement Buy America policies that Trump has refused to enact despite his "America First" rhetoric. Biden's plan calls for the revitalization of American manufacturing and infrastructure through investments that will drive innovation and create good jobs. Instead of waging harmful trade wars, Biden will ensure that American companies have fair access to foreign markets and bring the full power of the U.S. government and our allies to bear against economic cheaters. He will also fight for the investments in healthcare, education, and research and development that have built a 21st-century economy for our southern neighbors in Pittsburgh.
We cannot be satisfied by a return to the past. The postwar economic boom that brought prosperity to so many Americans left far too many people out. It is clear—especially in a city ranked one of the worst in the country for Black Americans—that we must do better this time. Erie will not truly prosper until we build an economy that delivers for everyone. That is why Joe Biden's plans are designed to empower people across racial, gender, and geographic lines. The Biden plan includes the largest investment in communities of color in American history.
I know Erie. I know we have what it takes to be the kind of city where anyone willing to work hard can find a decent job and raise a family. I know we can rise to the challenge of building a new economy, and ensuring that this time, everyone can share in the prosperity. Erie can once again be a community where people come from all over to seek opportunity and a good life. What we need to make that happen is a partner in the White House. Erie needs Joe Biden.
Andrew Dolan is an Erie native and international trade specialist. His writings have appeared in the Erie Reader, the Erie Times News, and the Falls Church News-Press.