ERIE, Penn. -- The city of Erie has been hit hard by decades of decline in American manufacturing. Since its peak in the 1950s, Erie has shed nearly 30,000 manufacturing jobs, with the labor force decreasing by 12,000 over just the past decade. Its population now stands at under 100,000 people.
With a strong labor presence, Erie had been a reliable Democratic stronghold since the Reagan era. But the city voted for President Trump in 2016, becoming emblematic of Rust Belt communities that turned to Trump to reverse a downward spiral of job loss and outsourcing.
In the new documentary “America: Manufacturing Hope,” CBSN travels to Erie to meet the working class voters who have been hit hardest by the loss of manufacturing jobs in their hometown. Many families have lived in Erie for generations, carving out middle-class lives with well-paying jobs in local factories before the plants closed and work dried up.
Pat, Justin and Shawn Gallagher have lived in Erie County their entire lives, spanning three generations. They’ve seen their hometown fall into economic turmoil, and all three voted for Trump because they could no longer sit idly by as jobs disappeared.
Patrick, the eldest Gallagher, worked at a local plant for over 40 years. He has been a registered Democrat for over 50 years, but said he “had to” vote for Trump in 2016.
“This was the first election that I’ve ever voted a straight ticket, and it was for the Republicans,” Patrick said. “I think people got to get behind Trump and give him a chance, because he has a functional path; no question in my mind about it.”
Justin, 21, is still in college, but wants to stay in Erie and potentially run for office. He served as an alternate delegate at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland.
“I think that a lot of the local leaders have not been doing their part,” Justin said. “At some point, if I have to run for office to see change, then I’ll do that.”
Shawn, Justin’s father, said the lack of jobs was the most pressing issue facing Erie. He worked at the GE plant for nearly 30 years, starting after he graduated college.
“It seemed to be just over many, many years, a lot of companies [were] downsizing in Erie, a lot of companies moving out,” Shawn said. “It just seemed like it would be better to get those jobs back here, or change the type of jobs.”
Justin said he had been encouraged by Trump’s early moves in office.
“He made these campaign promises, and one by one, he’s starting to check them off the list,” he said. “So it is nice to see that elected leader at the national level is acting on his campaign promises, and he’s actually moving forward with action.”
Watch more of the Gallagher family’s story and others in a CBSN Original airing Mon., Feb., 27, 2017 at 8 p.m. ET. titled, “America - Manufacturing Hope.”