Scranton, Pennsylvania: where even the mayor is on minimum wage | World news | The Observer
Scranton is the setting for the hit American version of the sitcom The Office. Not many people in this beleaguered city are laughing any more.
A former industrial city of 76,000 citizens, nestling amid the rolling wooded coal country hills of north-eastern Pennsylvania, Scranton is in crisis.
Its political system is deadlocked. The city coffers are virtually empty and its debts are huge. Last week the pay packets of all its municipal workers – including firemen, police and the mayor – were slashed to the minimum wage of $7.25 (£4.70) an hour. That effectively equates a life-saving Scranton fire chief with a burger-flipper elsewhere in the US. Not surprisingly, many expect Scranton to go bankrupt soon.
And Scranton is far from the only American community to face this dismal prospect. In the past month three Californian cities – San Bernardino, Stockton and Mammoth Lakes – have all gone bankrupt. Some experts have warned that a wave of municipal bankruptcies is set to sweep the United States as towns, cities and counties plunge into a fiscal black hole, collapsing under the weight of huge debts and reduced revenues. Last week Michael Coleman, a fiscal policy adviser to the League of California Cities, warned in the Los Angeles Times that some smaller cities in his state "may cease to exist".
That sort of scary talk does not convince everyone. But it certainly rings a bell with proud Scrantonian Gary Lewis, 26. The financial consultant, whose family are fifth-generation Scranton residents, saw his city as a harbinger of a crisis to come elsewhere in America.
"Give it a couple of months. This is the first domino. This is the leak that indicates the dam is breaking," he told the Observer. Lewis runs a respected financial blog on Scranton's fiscal crisis. He has calculated that on 5 July the city had just $5,000 cash in hand. "If this city was a private company, they would be liquidating," he said.