What they mean is that manufacturing jobs have gone overseas and middle-class jobs are harder to come by for people without college degrees. Fair enough – I worry about those things, too. But this book is about something else: what goes on in the lives of real people when the industrial economy goes south. It’s about reacting to bad circumstances in the worst way possible. It’s about a culture that increasingly encourages social decay instead of counteracting it.
Too many young men immune to hard work.
There is a lack of agency here – a feeling that you have little control over your life and a willingness to blame everyone but yourself.
I couldn’t believe that mild-mannered Pawpaw, whom I adored as a child, was such a violent drunk. His behaviour was due at least partly to Mawmaw’s disposition. She was a violent nondrunk.
This change is a symptom of a new economic reality: rising residential segregation.
But in Middletowns of this world, homeownership comes at a steep social cost: As jobs disappear in a given area, declining home values trap people in certain neighborhoods. Even if you’d like to move you can’t, because the bottom has fallen out of the market – you now owe more than any buyer is willing to pay. The cost of moving is so high that many people stay put. Of course, the people trapped are usually those with the least money; those who can afford to leave do so.
A lot of other Middletown parents and grandparents must have felt similarly: To them, the American Dream required forward momentum. Manual labor was honorable work, but it was their generation’s work – we had to do something different. To move up was to move on. That required going to college.
The juxtaposition is jarring: Religious institutions remain a positive force in people’s lives, but in part of the country slammed by the decline of manufacturing, joblessness, addiction, and broken homes, church attendance has fallen off. Dad’s church offered something desperately needed by people like me. For alcoholics, it gave them a community of support and a sense that they weren’t fighting the addiction alone. For expectant mothers, it offered a free home with job training and parenting classes. When someone needed a job, church friends could either provide one or make introductions. When Dad faces financial troubles, his church banded together and purchased a used car for the family. In the broken world I saw around me – and for the people struggling in that world – religion offered tangible assistance to keep the faithful on track.
We were conditioned to feel that we couldn’t really depend on people.