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WASHINGTON | ArcelorMittal USA offers great jobs, chairman Michael Rippey told the Congressional Steel Caucus Thursday.

“Wal-Mart and Target get headlines when they raise wages to $9 an hour,” said Rippey, who’s also chairman of the American Iron and Steel Institute. “At ArcelorMital USA, the average steelworker earns more than $30 per hour.”

Last year, the average income of an ArcelorMittal USA steelworker was more than $90,000. That’s double the average salary for the average factory worker in both Cleveland and Northwest Indiana, where most of its employees work.

But those jobs are at risk, Rippey said.

“In 1998, when imports also reached a record high, prices and production dropped, resulting in a crisis that caused several bankruptcies of major steel companies in the early 2000s,” he said. “Steel mill employment dropped by over 46,000 workers between 1998 and 2002, when the President finally imposed tariffs on steel products after the section 201 investigation.”

“Mr. Chairman, the current import surge is putting American steel jobs at risk today, just as it did then,” Rippey said.

The domestic steel industry remains vitally important to the U.S. economy, with more than 150,000 employees, Rippey said. Last year, U.S. steelmakers produced more than 98 million tons of steel valued at $75 billion for cars, bridges, buildings and the military, among other uses.

There’s also a ripple effect. Studies have found that each high-paying steel job supports another seven jobs in the community, such as at restaurants and pharmacies.

“The U.S. Steel industry supports more than 1 million U.S. jobs,” he said. “And our presence isn’t limited to the industrial Midwest, where we have deep roots. We have a presence in 41 states and operate 100 production facilities.”

Over the past year, a surge in imports has led to the loss of nearly 6,000 steel jobs across the country, including in Ohio, Texas, Illinois, Alabama and Northwest Indiana.

Finished steel imports – from countries that include China, Turkey, South Korea and Russia – shot up 36 percent while U.S. shipments ticked up only 3 percent, Rippey testified. The imports captured a historic 28 percent of the market share.

“Based on the first few months of this year, the outlook for 2015 is the same,” Rippey said. “The import surge is particularly troubling given that U.S. producers are currently using only 69 percent of production capacity.”

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Business Reporter

Joseph S. Pete is a Lisagor Award-winning business reporter who covers steel, industry, unions, the ports, retail, banking and more. The Indiana University grad has been with The Times since 2013 and blogs about craft beer, culture and the military.