2.7. The Mid-Atlantic States: The Age of Autonomy (1965-present)


t

Population (1000s), rank

1970

(50 states)

1990

(50 states)

2010

(50 states)

New York

18,241,391

2nd

17,990,455

2nd

19,378,104

3rd

New Jersey

7,171,112

8th

7,730,188

9th

8,791,894

9th

Pennsylvania

11,800,766

3rd

11,881,643

5th

12,702,379

6th

Total population

% of US pop.

 

18.5%

 

 

15.1%

 


13.2%

 



Mid-Atlantic cities in top 10 U.S. cities

1970

1990

2010

New York City

7,894,862 (1st)

7,322,564 (1st)

8,175,133 (1st)

Philadelphia

1,948,609 (4th)

1,585,577 (5th)

1,526,006 (5th)

 

Key events that shaped law and culture:

  • The 1960s and 1970s were the most turbulent period of American social history since the Civil War.  Dramatic changes in civil rights for blacks and women took place along with a host of less publicized changes.  Some Americans welcomed the changes but many reacted against them, and that conflict continues to shape American political divisions today.
  • The central theme of the modern era, as articulated by legal historian Lawrence Friedman, is a culture of the “self,” of “freedom to shape one’s own life, expressive freedom, freedom of personality,” as contrasted with earlier eras in which freedom was defined primarily as economic freedom.  Midwest lawmakers have followed this theme, which is reflected in many modern legal reforms including no-fault divorce, liberalization of free speech, and increased legal rights for women and gay people.
  • At the same time, paradoxically, American states have moved more in unison in adopting legal reforms than ever before.  Many modern legal reforms, such as no-fault divorce; school vouchers and increased home schooling; and the elimination of barriers to suing spouses, charities and local governments, have been consistent with the era’s central theme of increased individual autonomy.   With some interesting exceptions (see section ___), the mid-Atlantic states have participated fully in this trend.
  • The mid-Atlantic region still plays a central role in American life, but its dominance has eroded noticeably during the modern era as population has shifted to the south and west (see table above).  Most Americans still consider New York City the leading hub of American business and culture; Philadelphia and Pittsburgh remain leading metropolitan centers, and New Jersey remains settled in its role as the commercial corridor between New York and Philadelphia. 
  • But the Arab oil embargo of 1973 and the ability of Pacific Rim nations to make high-quality goods while taking advantage of low labor costs, triggered a sharp decline in manufacturing industries throughout the mid-Atlantic region.  The region has stuck with traditional industries and has been slower than states such as California and Texas to adapt to the new “high tech” economy, driven by the rise of personal computers, that began in the late 1980s.  But the mid-Atlantic states’ long tradition of accommodating cultural diversity likely will be a valuable asset and enable them to retain their leading national role as America as a whole becomes ever more diverse. 
New York City, September 11, 2001 - courtesy Wally Gobetz and Wikimedia Commons



Allegheny River near East Brady, Pennsylvania (2009) - courtesy Wikimedia Commons




Atlantic City, New Jersey - casino district at night (2008) - courtesy Ron Miguel and Wikimedia Commons