That’s a touching story and well told.
The problem is that we live in a successful techno-capitalist society. In 1776, 90% of everyone worked on a farm, but by the time Cyrus McCormick patented his reaper in the mid-19th century the writing was on the wall. By 1920 the nation was half rural, half urban, and agriculture had just started automating. All those little agricultural towns have no economic purpose anymore. They’ve been replaced by tractors, gizmos hooked up to tractors, ammonia fertilizer, hybrid seeds, herbicides and even more gizmos. In a capitalist society, their only choice is to find something new to do or to die.
It’s like those old silver mines. When the seams play out, all that is left is a ghost town.
Manufacturing has been subject to the same forces. Between 1870 and 1930, manufacturing became hundreds of times more labor efficient. Wages didn’t keep up with productivity and in the 1930s we had a depression. There has been a similar change between the 1950s and today. Even if we ended all imports, all those good unionized industrial jobs would not come back. Once again, and for the same reasons, we are trapped with slow economic growth.
There are two problems. One is the problem of towns that have no more economic use. In a socialist country, we might subsidize them for better or worse. In fact, we do subsidize them now, at least to some extent. The problem is that in areas with no capitalist purpose, the only decent jobs are government jobs and this breeds resentment.
The other problem is that the half decent jobs for non-college graduates have gone away along with the unions and government industrial policy that supported them. This is a political problem, and it has a political solution. Unfortunately, those most afflicted by this problem have long been backers of the very policies that have been afflicting them.
I do have sympathy for them, but I have sympathy for alcoholics, cutters and drug addicts as well. They are often their own worst enemies and will sacrifice a better life, their health, their families, their faith, and even their society in exchange for a self-destructive thrill.