“We have manufacturing companies who say to us, ‘I don’t want to look at those people. They’re not used to showing up and coming to work anymore,’ ” says Stefani Pashman, head of the Three Rivers Workforce Investment Board in Pittsburgh. Unemployment counselors talk about the difficulties of teaching “soft skills”—such as simply showing up on time for an interview and wearing something nicer than a stained T-shirt. “The perception of these people as workers,” says David Coplan, director of the Mon Valley Providers Council, “is that they’re damaged goods.”
It’s easy to write off the Mon Valley left-behinds as an old story limited to the specific woes of the steel industry. But in many ways, the people here are part of a much broader trend toward long-term unemployment in America. As in Braddock, and now a slew of communities laid low by the housing bubble and bust, the phenomenon can feed on itself and create a vicious cycle of disappearing jobs, declining incomes, higher foreclosures, and more layoffs.