The Middle Class Fights for Survival in Lima, Ohio
In a recent piece on Rolling Stone, Janet Reitman interviews multiple residents, the Lima Mayor David Berger, Allen County House Representative Jim Jordan, and weaves their stories alongside local and state economic policies and election cycles. The long-form piece details everything from crime rates, to the town's teen pregnancy and restrictive abortion policies, to publicly-funded charter schools, to manufacturing plant productivity cycles, to Tea Party and GOP politics, even touching on gerrymandering's role on the town's recent history.
Explaining the forces facing the disappearing middle class, Reitman spoke with Bill Faith, the executive director of the Coalition on Homelessness and Housing in Ohio, who shared how "The economy is stabilizing somewhat, there are businesses coming back, but we're talking about half the size of what it used to be. You see politicians try to appeal to people in places like Lima and say, ‘We're going to bring back manufacturing. We're going to get these companies to come back.' The reality is, you've got to incrementally bring back employment of whatever kind you can bring back.'"
Another interesting part of the article was the overlap between Ohio Governor John Kasich's $1 billion state investment in mostly underperforming charter schools, when "two of Ohio's largest charter-school operators, David Brennan and William Lager, also happened to be the state GOP's largest individual donors, contributing more than $5 million to the Republican Party since the 1990s. Starting in 1998, schools run by the two men have reaped roughly one-quarter of all the taxpayer-funded charter money – about $1.7 billion. Ohio's charter—school operators have successfully claimed that the money given to charter-management companies is no longer public, leaving them exempt from government audits or any other public scrutiny."
In an interview with House Rep. Jim Jordan, he divulged how Lima's future is in the industries it already possesses, such as oil, chemicals, heath care, and construction. In his words, "For every one of those examples, we have examples of what we do have happening... I'm 100 percent for green energy. I'm for ethanol, I'm for wind power, that's all great. But I don't believe in picking winners and losers by giving tax breaks to some industries and not to others. You don't want bureaucrats in Washington deciding what works and what doesn't; you want people to decide in the grand marketplace we have."
However, Reitman counters this thinking in her piece by writing how "government exists in part to help manage economic crisis. Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz, whose 2012 book, The Price of Inequality, deconstructs the effects of income inequality, believes the only way out of the current crisis is a comprehensive overhaul of the economic structure."
The entire piece is a fascinating ethnography of a small, Midwestern community failing to adapt itself after an industrial collapse, and can serve as a warning to other cities facing similar crises.