McKeesport, Duquesne, and Clairton are three of over 50 third-class cities in Pennsylvania that experienced challenges as the businesses they were built upon crumbled in the industrial decline of the 1980’s. These three cities sit along the shores of the Monongahela Valley as it winds south of Pittsburgh, punctuated with former steel towns well past their industrial prime. Left now with a dwindling number of residents and without the economic diversity of bigger cities, local governments are left spending beyond their incoming tax revenue to support the public services, crumbling infrastructure, and government structures that arose to serve a swell of population from boom years long gone.
Eleven of 27 communities placed under Pennsylvania’s Financially Distressed Municipalities Act since 1987 are third-class cities, many of them former industrial hubs such as Altoona and Reading. Lawmakers say that the legislation, known as Act 47 and meant to stabilize city finances through restructured debt and other measures, has become another burden for local leaders. A handful third-class cities have been stuck under the designation for more than 20 years. While Clairton, Penn. emerged from Act 47 in 2015, the neighboring city of Duquesne remains. Across the Monongahela River, McKeesport tries to avoid the designation and the downward spiral that tends to come along with it. This is a look at those cities, and the people digging in to dig out.