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Pennsylvania at the end of the 20th century


Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania mobilized its people and industries to serve in World War II (1939-1945). About one-eighth of the population, 1.25 million people, served in the armed forces, and 33,000 were killed. General George C. Marshall, a native of Uniontown, was army chief of staff, and later served as U.S. secretary of state, playing an important role in helping to rebuild the economy of Western Europe. Pennsylvania shipyards produced and refitted hundreds of navy vessels, while the state’s factories produced shells, tanks, planes, armored cars, and guns. Black migration from the South increased again during World War II, and blacks came to represent almost 5 percent of the state’s population. After a boom during World War II, Pennsylvania suffered economic decline. The demand for the state’s coal dropped, leading mines to close and large numbers of residents to move away from the mining regions around Scranton and Wilkes-Barre. Many textile workers lost their jobs when mills became automated or moved to Southern states, where labor was less expensive. The once-powerful Pennsylvania Railroad merged with another to become the Penn Central, then went bankrupt in 1970.

A strong two-party system has influenced much of 20th-century government in Pennsylvania. The Republican Party has controlled the governor’s office for much of the century, but power has been distributed more evenly between the major parties in the General Assembly. Political trends also reflect the growing divisions between rural and urban interests, and the ethnic and racial diversity of the urban population. Since 1960 the Democratic Party has held a slight majority in the number of registered voters in the state. In the mid-1950s and 1960s Democrats George M. Leader and David L. Lawrence each served single terms as governor, and Democrat Milton J. Shapp was elected in 1970, holding the office until 1979. Following accusations of corruption in Shapp’s administration, Republican Richard Thornburgh, a former federal prosecutor with strong reform credentials, was elected governor for two terms beginning in 1979.

A political moderate who later served as U.S. attorney general under President George Bush (1989-1993), Thornburgh was widely praised for his handling of a 1979 accident at the nuclear power reactor at Three Mile Island near Harrisburg. The accident, which threatened the release of radioactive gas, caused the temporary evacuation of nearby residents and led to stricter federal standards for nuclear-plant designs and emergency-response plans. Thornburgh was succeeded as governor by another moderate, Democrat Robert Casey of Scranton, who served until 1994.

Recent political debates in the General Assembly have often turned on fierce partisan loyalties, as well as differences between urban and rural representatives. Social and economic changes also have helped shape legislative battles of the last two decades. Pennsylvania has seen the continued decline of its coal, steel, and transportation industries, the disappearance of one in three farms, and the deterioration of urban areas. Although the steel industry was hit hard in the late 1970s and 1980s by recession and foreign competition, Pennsylvania continued to lead the nation in steel production. Food processing, manufacturing, and service industries have grown in importance to the state’s economy.

The 1990s brought a new style of political conservatism to Pennsylvania, ushering in a period of transition in state government. In 1994 Republican Rick Santorum defeated Democratic incumbent Harris Wofford in the U.S. Senate race, and Republican Tom Ridge won election as governor, both advocating conservative fiscal and social policies. Ridge supported stricter law enforcement standards, victims’ rights advocacy, and school choice as the state restricted funding of welfare programs and public education. Ridge resigned in 2001, in the middle of his second term, after President George W. Bush appointed him to head a new cabinet-level position, the Office of Homeland Security. Lieutenant Governor Mark S. Schweiker succeeded Ridge as governor. In 2002, however, the people of Pennsylvania elected Democrat Edward G. Rendell, former mayor of Philadelphia, as governor. "Pennsylvania" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia

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