PITTSBURGH — They still call it "Steel City" even though steel is no longer king. It was steel that put food on the table in the Falavolito household. John, the patriarch, is 81. Joined by son, Bill, and grandson, Dean, these days the conversation at the table surrounds one topic.
"Eat some raviolis and watch the Steelers win the Super Bowl," says Dean.
They are the only NFL team named after the industry that built the city. The Steelers practice where a steel mill once stood. They represent the hopes and dreams of a tough town.
“They're really constant and consistent and steady, which is the way a lot of people in Pittsburgh are,” says Dean.
John had worked his way up from welder to union president, before retiring from a mill that's now gone.
Is there anybody to blame for the fact that this isn't the steel headquarters of the world anymore?
“I blame the government itself,” says Bill. “Because when things were good, the mills were running real good, everybody was working. Then the imports kept coming in and we kept going down and down and down. It's all over.”
The region lost more than 150,000 manufacturing jobs and almost twice that number of people left the area.
“This was a place of innovation and energy and it was hard for Pittsburghers to deal with the fact that, well, maybe the population is declining, and the mills are closing, and we've got to reinvent ourself,” says Andy Masich, the president and CEO of the Sen. John Heinz History Center.
And like so many here, the Falavolito family had to change to stay here.
“If you don't adapt and change, you won't make it in this economy today,” says Bill.
John's son, Bill, went into finance. Bill's son, Dean, went into law. They stayed in Pittsburgh even though steel isn't part of the family any more.
“I'm excited about what the future of Pittsburgh has to offer,” says Dean. “Everyone calls Pittsburgh a blue collar town, when there's not quite as many blue collar industries as there used to be. But I think that blue collar attitude is still in Pittsburgh.”
There are signs of improvement. Unemployment, which peaked at a crippling 18 percent in the 1980s, is now better than the national average.
But Pittsburgh is still experiencing a budget shortfall and population loss year-to-year, leading some here to fight.
Matt Burger founded the Pittsburgh Urban Magnet Project. In a city where seven out of 10 young people left in the 1980s, the future of Steel City depends on leaving the past behind.
“Pittsburgh is one of the greatest success stories in the country, because unlike other cities that may have lost a significant part of its population or an important industry, we've done so and thrived,” says Burger.
But time has changed the politics of the Falavolito family.
“I'm a labor man and I'm a Democrat,” he says.
John's son and grandson both voted for President Bush, along with 48 percent of the state. But they don't want to talk politics anymore. So the conversation goes back to safe ground.
“You had one common thing and that was the Steelers that you could always unite around,” says Bill. “And that's part of what pulled Pittsburgh together, I think.”
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