How Technological Disruption, Not Trade, Doomed U.S. Steel Jobs

Duke economist Allan Collard-Wexler on what the debate gets wrong about the industry

Pittsburgh Steel Mill

Pittsburgh Steel Mill

From 1962-2005, the U.S. steel industry cut 400,000 employees. The decline had massive effects. For example, Pittsburgh (the former center of the U.S. steel industry) fell from 10th to 52nd largest city in the U.S. However, U.S. steel productivity grew: worker output increased 5-fold, and factory output increased by 38%. How? According to Duke economist Allan Collard-Wexler, new technology — the steel minimill — quickly replaced less efficient “vertically integrated” mills. During this time, domestic steel production returned to 1960s levels. Meaning: the drop in steel employment was not the result of globalization or the steel industry moving from the Midwest. Instead, jobs in steel were displaced by technology. 
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