The Rust Belt of Courage

“If you have the microphone, the camera, the pad and paper — go home. Use your skills to publish the stories that help Americans understand their unseen fellow Americans.” That’s a great idea.

My wife and I recently moved back to south-eastern Wisconsin, and live in Milwaukee now (I grew up about 30 miles west, when that was still rural, she in one of the outer suburbs). There’s a lot of good stuff going on here in the MKE area — jobs, redevelopment, etc., but there’s still areas where generations of poverty, struggling schools, being left behind and left out, are the case — and there’s plenty of people being priced out of the new, shiny city where decently-working institutions and job opportunities are to be found.

I see the more pervasive breakdown of communities when I drive to other parts of the midwest, for example when I go down to where my kids still live in rural northwestern Indiana. Some of it isn’t radically new — when I was living there in the early 2000s, there were already a high number of routine meth busts each month, and businesses were struggling in their strip-mall locations. Occasionally, my daughter and I would take “the long way” (state highway 41) to go south to Lafayette. After a certain point, all the once-prosperous towns were more or less devastated (when I-65 came through, that drew most of the traffic off 41, and broke many of the local economies — town squares of mostly boarded up buildings, with the odd rundown gas, feed, or convenience store here and there. Few people out to be seen, since there was pretty much nothing going on outside. It was already like that, as I mentioned, in the early 2000s. Now much more of Indiana is like that, including the towns along the interstate. . . When I visit my relatives, it’s good to see that pretty much everyone does have work. But the money definitely doesn’t go as far. And everyone knows someone out of work. . . .