Nov 30, 2017

A Baby Boomer Allentown

molovinsky on allentown is meant to intersect local politics and history. I grew up during a very prosperous era in Allentown's history. The post war (WW2) factories couldn't produce enough goods, despite some having three shifts. Local government was small, concerned mostly with infrastructure and public safety.  There was little concern with affordable housing and other social programs. Then, as now, there were always poor people. Eleanor Roosevelt visited Allentown for the opening of Hanover Acres, the public housing above the east side of the Lehigh River. For many residents of that project and Cumberland Gardens, the public housing was a stepping stone, not a lifestyle.

Hamilton Street was a thriving shopping district.  No subsidies needed there.  Those successful merchants handled their own parking system, no Parking Authority needed.  There might have been some nepotism and cronyism in city hall, but no need for FBI investigations.  Information and news came from your television screen and newspapers, but without agendas and misdirection.

A reader asked me why I made commenting more difficult.  Question.......isn't one of the purposes of your blog to foster discussion of the matters you raise? Purposely seeking to curb comment responses and possibly readership, seems counterintuitive to me.  Topics are not chosen in regard to expanding readership, nor do I count comments as a gauge of success. This blog is not monetized, directly or indirectly. I address those topics which are either under-reported, or misrepresented by the local main stream media. Consequently, I want the comments to be as relevant and responsible as possible.

When Walter Cronkite gave the news in the early 1960's,  he signed out each program by saying, "And that's the way it is."  

reprinted from July of 2016


Fire the incompetants said...

The original intent of public housing was to be used as a stepping stone, not a life style. This all ended in the 1970's & 80's. I was vilified for putting the blame totally on the back of Joe Dadonna. Joe was a good friend of mine and numerous times I told him these projects are getting out of hand. His response was to form an elite dedicated police team to curtail crime problems. This worked at first, but then it was disbanded due to need for the resources to be expanded in center city; where the problems migrated to. Joe was a great cheerleader for Allentown, clean and honest, [not like the current dupe in office], but should of adopted strict code enforcement, abandonment and unabated conversion to rental properties, and a more robust policing concept city-wide. He and Chief Stephens did bring in community policing to the neighborhoods, however, the emphasis was on public relations, rather then enforcement.
Today's governments looks at it as a way of life and if you want to live here, put up with it. This is why you have a corrupt government and an indicted leader reelected!

Scott Armstrong said...

Many today, ignorant of the constitution and the value of liberty foolishly believe housing is a right. It isn't and never was, it is an entitlement.

michael molovinsky said...

fire@7:31, as an example of a stepping stone, former mayor bill heydt as a boy lived in the housing projects.

Jamie Kelton said...

7:31. My Dad talks about the "Allentown before Daddona" and the "Allentown today".

doug_b said...

The United States was founded on the principle of small and limited government, where the individual was the most important. But now, that's not the case.

I have been very lucky. Born in 1949, I experienced everything good about Allentown and Pennsylvania. In grade school I was a student in the gifted children's program at the Jefferson school. Although boring, Dieruff was a decent school.

While in the graduate program (computer science) at Penn State, I met my wife. She was from a small town near Erie. She was amazed with Allentown.

My luck (I did not know it at the time) was that after graduating from Penn State, I couldn't find a job anywhere in the Lehigh Valley or Philadelphia or NJ. We were forced to move to Virginia, where I worked for NASA. I was lucky to be out of Allentown, nobody could have foreseen what was the future.

To this day, I find it hard to fathom how such a compact, civil, independent, successful place such as Allentown could spiral into the sordid mess that it is today. My wife said A-Town once reminded her of Camelot!

Geoff said...

A lot of the changes we see in our communities are the result of the collective changes we make in our own lives, based on our own preferences.

Sure, in 1950 life was different in Allentown. People began to want, and bought, single family homes (with subsidized mortgages, in many cases, from the VA). They wanted the independence of using a car and not waiting for a bus or trolley, and they liked the idea of shopping indoors. Hence we got the Whitehall Malls (now struggling) and highways all over the place, all seeming to be in some degree of construction. Internet shopping and the downward pressure on any kind of overhead are putting enormous pressure on any town's shopping district--outside those for the very rich and the poor. In some places, it is fashionable again to live as their grandparents did--in small houses or apartments in urban areas. To do so, you need a job.

In 1950, the Lehigh Valley had some titans of industry, to include Allentown. For a variety of reasons, those firms moved, downsized, or died--taking away many direct jobs and the support (legal, clerical, etc.) jobs that supported them. The digital economy means that a accounting center in Texas, Romania, or India can provide the kinds of services once provided by many firms here at home. Most of those firms have never really been replaced, gutting a hole in the middle class economy of Allentown. Some might even blame the wage demands of the solid blue-collar Mack laborers for this!

The world changes, but to blame the world changing on poor people strikes me as not only morally contemptuous, but factually incorrect. The world we live in in Allentown today is the result of the choices our society has made on how to live, shop, and work.

Scott Armstrong said...


Is anyone here blaming poor people for what is wrong with Allentown and frankly many other parts of America? That's not what I am reading. I believe most here agree the blame lies with those who have pursued and implemented policies that make the poor dependent on the government rather than ones that would lead them out of poverty. I think it is also clear that a shared opinion is that the denigration of worthy cultural norms and institutions have degrades the moral environment and work ethic of too many Americans.
That is what I read here. I think we all can agree on one thing, the poor have been ill served in America. That is another discussion entirely.

doug_b said...

@Geoff: Nobody is blaming poor people. However, have you ever heard of poor people improving a city? Why are they poor? Poor judgment, poor IQ, poor education, poor skills, crime? Once you have a concentration of these people, it is not good.

In the case of Allentown, the poor flooded the area.

The PA Dutch were not that wealthy. However they had manners, a work ethic, and the city was safe.

Geoff said...

This is mostly well meaning nonsense. The post is about the decline of Allentown and complaints that the poor (and public housing) have basically ruined it. Doug_b says so directly.

Sadly, this website's commentary often encapsulates the ignorance, blockheadedness, and near-overt racism that has marked the worst of Allentown for decades, long before Mack left. People who leave don't miss the small-mindedness of the community which hampers its continued development, even compared to neighboring cities.

Obviously, poor people have lived in Allentown for a long time. Public housing may have been a stepping stone, but those in public housing lived in a nation with a much different distribution of wealth, access to capital, and job market than people in Allentown live with today. And in fact I fully agree--the children of the upper middle class are far more likely to remain upper middle class than 50 years ago, and the children of the poor remain poor.

You look at individual morality (and not so implicitly ethnicity)...I'd say look at broader economic trends in our society, and political changes too.

I'm sure people were great, but they had opportunities from Mack Trucks and supporting companies that simply don't exist today--to include the need for a professional middle class living in the city's borders. This isn't only Allentown's problem. The question really is how a smaller city fits into a country where wealth is collapsing on the biggest cities and leaving little behind.

Complaining about long-ago closed bad restaurants, tailor shops, and music stores isn't bringing it back in Allentown or anywhere else. So who has a new idea?

Scott Armstrong said...

Geof, repeating your original point and adding insult does not bring anything new to the discussion. Answer my point, poverty programs no longer lift people from poverty but make them dependent on the government and saps their will and dignity. Then address our cultural decline and its effects on the poor. Those asking these questions, and seeing problems as they are does not make one a racist, calling those who dare question the stautus que "racist" is however slander.That is one thing the left does very well.

Scott Armstrong said...

By the way Geoff, the only person seeming to associate poverty with any ethnic group here is you, otherwise how would you explain your attempted "racist" smear. It is clear enough that poverty is an equal opportunity condition and the programs designed to deal with it have the same dismal effects on everyone subjected to them no matter what their skin color, religion, language...

In sheer numbers white outnumber all other racial groups ensnared in government produced generational poverty. Meth is a huge problem in those dysfunctional often rural areas. None of us would want to live surrounded by that either. Look up rural poverty in America, the disastrous effects of our anti-poverty programs are apparent there and have been for many years, yet nothing is done to change what is clearly broken. Why? There are reasons. The left is always the defender of this status quo. That is all yours!

doug_b said...

This is from Zerohedge:

Here’s a straightforward list of the top ten states with the highest expenditures on public welfare. Note the enormous difference between California and New York and the rest of the country.

1. California - $103 Billion
2. New York - $61.4 Billion
3. Texas - $35.4 Billion
4. Florida - $27.2 Billion
5. Pennsylvania - $26.7 Billion
6. Illinois - $21 Billion
7. Ohio - $20 Billion
8. Massachusetts - $18.6 Billion
9. New Jersey - $17.3 Billion
10. Michigan - $16.3 Billion

Here’s an interesting fact for you. The top ten states listed above spend more on public welfare ($346.9B) than all of the bottom forty states (plus the District of Columbia) combined ($262.7B).

Regardless of how populated any particular state is, you want to pay attention to these numbers because they foreshadow future budget problems.

When you consider the fact that many states run operating deficits and have enormous debt problems, you begin to wonder if some of these numbers are sustainable for the long term.

Bob said...

Geoff is rightly concerned by comments which assert that Allentown was a better place before "the outsiders" arrived. Such assertions blame new residents -- who happen to be part of a particular racial/ethnic group -- for all our social ills, without looking at the bigger economic picture. Low-paying service jobs replaced middle-income factory jobs which means it's harder to climb into the middle class. Not impossible, but harder.

Some of us know of a time when Irish and Italian immigrants were viewed as lazy drunks or mobsters, and that sterotype tarred an entire ethnic group. A few fit the stereotype but the overwhelming majority didn't. I would be willing to bet that the same is true of the new residents who are popular targets on these pages. "Oh but the PA Dutch had better values," you claim. Visit the Lehigh County Historical Society and I'm sure there are examples of literature condemning the PA Dutch for their sub-par values.

michael molovinsky said...

bob@6:50, it is not the intention of this blog to target any ethnic group. however, the litter, shootings, stabbings and homicides have soared, while the total population has remained essentially unchanged. it is simply an awkward truth, which many people, apparently including yourself, think is better unsaid.

TRENT HALL said...

The underlying problem is that automation & technology & globalization now permit what were middle class jobs to be performed overseas, where labor and all ancillary costs are greatly reduced. The service & retail jobs that remain are essentially minimum wage or slightly above it. No one in any state in the USA can afford a decent apartment for a family and operate a car on a 40 hour minimum wage income. BIG BUSINESS owns the state legislators and federal Congress and Republican Presidents have packed the courts with anti-union & anti-civil rights & a voter suppression minded judges so that former social support security networks like unions, Planned Parenthood and fair wage laws are eliminated or greatly reduced.
Distracting the lower & middle class with rhetoric about abortion/guns/God/gays/Hillary/higher education/Hollywood/yadda yadda is fine tuned by bombastic talk radio & Fox "News." It is so pervasive that the GOP now pushes the insane lie that losing health insurance is “freedom.”
Today is not 1950 Penna. Dutch Allentown where anyone could get off their backside and earn a decent union wage from Mack and Bethlehem Steel. The minorities in Allentown today have no similar stepping stone available to them......dishwashers & retail workers have no upward economic opportunity, just as nonsensical religious doctrine ensures that children having children is a road map for perpetual poverty.

Geoff said...


The fact that the population of Allentown has remained the same is a sign of a problem. Given that the United States as a whole has grown significantly in the past 20 years, a city that remains stagnant in population is dying.

I don't think anyone disagrees that crime is up. What I think folks are saying is that a key reason for that is that the political leadership of Pennsylvania and the United States oversaw the destruction of the smaller cities of the northern US. That Latinos and African Americans disproportionally bear the cost of that is perhaps the truth many don't really want to talk about.

@Doug B. Raw numbers of "welfare" (not sure I'm really buying that) for states of widely varying population aren't very meaningful. The debt load of individual states, like Illinois, is. However, given that as a nation we can't seem to agree on how to support a society that resembles a reasonably prosperous one--we're apparently going to go back to the social systems of the late 19th century. That worked out great the first time, after all.

Geoff said...

Scott Armstrong,

You call it an insult, I call it an observation. I'm just as Allentown as you are. If you're innocent of the charges, you have nothing to worry about.

No one is arguing that "poverty programs" make people middle class. In a poor society, transfers prevent destitution (I've seen it).

In a modern society, I agree that welfare isn't enough. Social programs are supposed to hold the line for individuals to help them survive temporary health problems, economic downturns, or other generally temporary conditions to maintain the chance for economic advancement. In more extreme cases, social programs enable those with the misfortune to be born poor to maintain the chance for economic advancement.

In all cases, these programs assume such things as broadly equal educational systems, access to capital, and especially an absorptive economy that can provide opportunities for employment and advancement to people at different entry points. That is not the United States, or even the Lehigh Valley, of today. That's my answer to those who claimed the PA Dutch were better (I have known plenty with lousy work ethics and poor manners, by the way)--sure they "got off welfare" or "out of public housing" because 50-60 years ago they were cresting the wave of postwar economic expansion. Today's expansion has a much narrower set of beneficiaries, who are able to segregate themselves and entrench economic advantage in a manner that I would hope would disappoint our grandparents.

I suppose one could argue that welfare causes dependence based on a superficial analysis that refuses to consider context or any other factors. For most politicians, that's good enough, I suppose. I would say that the dependence comes because our political leaders have not just failed to keep up, but to offer anything to Pennsylvania's communities at a time when steel mills or truck plants don't employ 20,000 people. Arguing over who the biggest slugs of history are don't get us there. Pennsylvania will keep dying until someone comes up with something better.

michael molovinsky said...

i have not accepted three comments from "Bob", who accuses me of racial targeting in this discussion about allentown. this post was not an attack on either the poor or any ethnicity. i reject the notion that negative changes in allentown's quality of life cannot be discussed, because they might be associated with one group or another, by some people.