There have been so many blogs, opinion pieces, etc. about the poor rural whites who voted for Donald Trump. Why did they vote for someone so unlike themselves? Did they really think a rich, white New Yorker could do anything for them or did they just detest Hillary Clinton that much? The answer is a complicated one, even for social scientists. There are people who dedicate their lives to studying groups of people and there are those who have lived the life and have their own opinions, e.g., Hillbilly Elegy. A lot of attention has been given to this group and rightly so, given the outsome of the last election.
I have made some observations lately and while they probably don’t come as a shock to anyone, I just want to talk about some of them, perhaps get some comments on your own experiences and maybe a layperson’s view of the subject. Much has changed in the years since I was a child. A lot of people say that the world is a better place and I suppose in some ways, it is. A lot of social issues are more understood now and people who are different don’t have as much fear about their differences. For example, when I was in high school, I didn’t know anyone who came out as gay, though it was suspected. Now there are LGBT support groups in high school. One way that things are better. Women now have more positions of power and more opportunities than they had in the 60’s and 70’s, with thanks to the pioneers who came before me. Of course, during the 60’s, civil rights became law. I have heard people say that crime is no worse now than it was then, it’s just more publicized now. I haven’t done the research, so I can’t refute that.
Today I heard a story on the news of a 13 year old shot dead in what appeared to be a middle-class suburban neighborhood just outside of Baltimore. I know quite a bit about the area and I have friends who live close to where this occured. I researched the history of the area and discovered that it used to be a fine place to live and raise a family, but now it is crime-ridden. The schools are mostly Title 1 and a lot of the housing is Section 8. What happens to a neighborhood to turn it “bad” in a generation or two? Much of the same problems that have afflicted the rural poor also have caused good areas in a city to become undesirable. Lack of good paying jobs (jobs going overseas), drugs, and gentrification (in the city) have contributed to the problem. There is something else that is a little more controversial and that is white flight. Historically, whites on the lower end of the socioeconomic spectrum have had different outcomes than blacks on the same spectrum and of course, we all know that institutional racism has a lot to do with that. Poor people who are hopeless about their futures cope in all sorts of ways, some not so good (drugs, gangs, etc.) As I see it, the “ghettos” of the big cities are increasing in circumference, affecting suburban areas, bringing its crime, failing schools, drugs and everything else that makes those looking for a home keep searching.
My first home was a single family, very small home on a back road off of a main road in a suburb of Baltimore. My particular street was not usually affected by crime and the schools at the time (late 80’s, early 90’s) were considered pretty good, but not great. My oldest son attended the local elementary school and middle school and seemed to do well. By the time my youngest got to elementary school four years later, he was a minority in his class, whereas my oldest had many white, middle-class classmates in elementary school. The school’s reputation started to decline. The school doors remained locked during the day. Many white families moved. Now, 20 years later, the test scores are abysmal and its ranking out of Maryland elementary schools is in the bottom 5%. (By the way, this is not meant to be a racist rant, it is merely observation) Even in the planned city of Columbia, MD, where James Rouse’s vision was that all races and socioeconomic classes live nearby each other in “villages”, things have changed for the worse. The least expensive neighborhoods are still unaffordable for many and for those who can afford to live there, crime is a growing concern and the once very good schools are now producing low test scores and there are many more children in poverty. The families who fled our former elementary school 15 years ago probably find themselves in a similar situation now. I know for a fact that one family moved to an area that used to be a low-crime area but now is not.
What is happening to our country? The government can’t create family cohesiveness. As more and more families break down and (yes, I’ll say it) women continue to bear children that they are ill equipped to care for, things are only going to get worse. In my solidly middle class but aging neighborhood, crime is starting to become problematic. Many neighborhoods such as mine, with their 60’s and 70’s era homes and aging populations aren’t attractive to young professionals with children Those who can afford to do so move to bigger homes, farther away from the perceived problem areas. This is a distinctly different pattern than the way things used to be. Many of my peers grew up in small homes. A lot of mothers stayed home during the day and could comfortably afford to do so.
I may be pining for a simpler time, but I don’t believe that any hard working American should have to live in unsafe conditions. If you are working full time, you should be able to provide for a family. I could go on a tangent now about the rising costs of healthcare, funding for education and raising the minimum wage, but that’s a rant for another day. In the meantime, I hope I haven’t offended too many with this post. These are merely observations, not judgement calls or victim blaming.