Jim Crawford: Middle America needs to see its problems addressed

Published 12:00 am Thursday, March 2, 2023

America is in an age of prosperity. Since the end of World War II, the U.S. has had the largest Gross Domestic Product in the world and ranks fifth in per capita GDP.

And GDP tells a great deal about economic opportunity. Consider this fact: The top 10 nations for GDP comprise two-thirds of the world’s GDP  and we are at the top of that measure. 

But if you are just not feeling all that rich personally, you may be one of those who feel left out of this wealth. And that would potentially make you a political nightmare for Democrats, who once had your vote, and for Republicans, who gained your vote with Donald Trump but see you since the 2020 and 2022 elections as fickle and fleeting. 

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Both political parties want your support, but you have a wealth of distrust earned from decades of failed promises and empty rhetoric.

Globalization hit you in the face. Politicians told you not to worry. You may lose your manufacturing job, but there will be retraining and new jobs that pay even better. Well, the jobs were lost to Mexico with first and third world workers living in poverty later. And that training was never funded and those better jobs never happened. 

What did happen after the manufacturers moved production to cheaper locations was the loss of good-paying jobs and the benefits and health care that followed those jobs. 

What also happened was the aging of the roads and highways and bridges when the tax base was reduced from lost manufacturing revenue. And then your children had to move to the cities to make a good living and the schools began to close when the young marrieds moved away for better opportunities. 

Over decades, you watched wealth move from production to careers like managing other peoples’ money around sitting at a desk in a high rise. The politicians still wanted your vote after taking away your opportunities and ignoring the effects on your community and family. 

Republicans responded by cutting the taxes on the wealthiest Americans. That did not help. In fact, it contributed to a significant increase in income disparity and fair tax policy. As billionaire Warren Buffet once complained, his tax rate should not be lower than that of his secretary. It still is. 

Democrats, once the party of working Americans, expanded its base to include virtually all minorities, but in the process, became the party of the cities. The smaller and mid-sized towns in the one-time industrial locations continued to be ignored as they struggled to keep their hospitals and schools open and their family businesses alive. Cities like Youngstown and Toledo watched the larger cities like Columbus and Cincinnati thrive while they shrank in population and wealth. 

Recently, Congress passed a bipartisan bill that President Joe  Biden signed into law to invest in the infrastructure of these smaller towns and cities where the water pipes still need replacing and the parks are closed for lack of funding. It is a start, but much more needs to be done.  

There is research evidence that when small towns and cities experience these long-term declines,  the population becomes more responsive to right-wing messages about immigration, guns, abortion and religious persecution. But these issues are simply distractions from the need for real solutions. And the politicians advancing them are not serving their communities well. 

Recently, a battery plant opened near Youngstown, creating 1,300 good paying jobs. That will make a real difference. Near Columbus, a multi-billion-dollar chip manufacturing facility is underway. That will help. 

Middle America needs solutions, not more empty rhetoric. 

Jim Crawford is a retired educator and political enthusiast living here in the Tri-State.