Gary, Indiana is about 25 miles (40 kilometres) from downtown Chicago. The city was founded in 1906 by the United States Steel Corporation as the home for the world's largest steel plant, Gary Works. Its name came from lawyer Elbert Henry Gary, the founding chairman of the United States Steel Corporation. As with many cities of the Rust Belt, Gary's rise and fall is reflective of the steel industry.
The steel industry provided Gary with a very rapid growth and a diverse population during the first half of the 20th century. In 1920, 29.7% of Gary's population at the time was classified as foreign-born, mostly from eastern European countries, with another 30.8% classified as native-born with at least one foreign-born parent. In 1960, the city reached its peak population of 178,320.
The growth of the steel industry brought prosperity to the community. From the 1960s though, Gary followed the fate of the so-called Rust Belt. Growing overseas competitiveness in the steel industry caused U.S. Steel to lay off many workers from the Gary area. As the city declined, crime increased while more and more buildings were abandoned.
Today, it is estimated that one-third of all homes in Gary are unoccupied and/or abandoned. Less than 80,000 people live in the city today, 55% less compared to 1960. While U.S. Steel remains a major steel producer, it employs a small number of workers compared to the past. The city faces large levels of unemployment, decaying infrastructure, and low literacy and educational attainment levels.
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