The American Midwest: A Story Of Decay And (Eventual) Rebirth

The American Midwest: A Story Of Decay And (Eventual) Rebirth

The Midwest, its downfall, and how it can rise atop the pile again.


"You know what the Midwest is? Young and restless." Kanye West once uttered those words to describe his environment in Chicago, but it almost feels like that could be applied to most, if not all, of the Midwest; young in age and restless in desire for change. A place once filled with burgeoning manufacturing industries, innovation, and unabated prosperity, now left behind by them and forced to ponder what can bring them back to glory and relevance nationally.

From Detroit and the automobile industry to Youngstown, Ohio and the steel industry, many cities and states have been left in ruins, as the rest of the industries that endeared themselves to the populace slowly departed for new lands. Cleveland? Down nearly 2/3 of its peak population. St. Louis has lost the greatest number of citizens as a percentage of its population since 1950. Detroit, the city on a hill, has lost one million since the 50's. Walter Mondale described this area as the "Rust Bowl," which would evolve into the Rust Belt, which comprises so much of the Midwest. The question is; what got us here?

First, let's define the Rust Belt, since it isn't the most well-defined phrase. Though used in a more derisive context, it is usually defined as the area from western New York (Buffalo) out to, St. Louis, Missouri and Iowa out west. This includes nearly, if not all, of the Midwest. This area used to be the engine of the country's economy; U.S. Steel, AK Steel, GM, Ford, Chrysler, and others called this area home, and many still do. This brought in a plethora of immigrants from overseas, as well as African-Americans (the Great Migration) who sought a better life away from the oppressive Jim Crow south.

This hodgepodge of individuals didn't work in harmony consistently (more on that later), but they certainly contributed to the economic boom that would define the area for decades to come. The area became defined not only by its industry, but the ethnic heterogeneity. The area prospered; at the 1950 Census, the following cities were in the top 20 cities by population; Detroit, Cleveland, St. Louis, Pittsburgh, Milwaukee, Buffalo, and Cincinnati. This is not even including cities such as Baltimore. Other small cities, such as Galesburg, Illinois, (Maytag Factory), Burlington, Iowa, and Youngstown, Ohio thrived as a result of their respective industries. To put it concisely, the area thrived. However, it was not to last.

There were many, many factors that led to this precipitous decline that continues today. Some of them are unique to cities, while others are more general. One of the most obvious phenomenon observed? Redlining, or the denial of services to African-Americans. This included loans, insurance, healthcare, and even access to supermarkets. This led many African-Americans to abandon their neighborhoods as businesses were unable to thrive, leading to lower population densities and shelters for those seeking to trade drugs and commit crimes and leaving those who stayed in dangerous conditions (this still happens today, FYI). There was also blockbusting, which was inherently linked to white-flight; white homeowners were encouraged to sell their homes at a loss because of the amount of black people moving in depressing their property values, and then proceeded to sell the properties to black people moving into the area at a mark-up, causing them to lose their money. This was fueled by white flight, where white citizens fled for the suburbs, removing a significant tax-base for the cities.

This doesn't even begin to touch on how cities lost industry to not only the suburbs, but other countries. A sad beginning to the decline to come.

And now, here we are. There are many ways this could be solved, one would hope. Though the cities would never decline enough to where they could disappear, losing a city as a key economic hub is damaging. Where does it all stem from? Loss of industry. So the question becomes this: what can we do here in the Rust Belt to bring jobs back? For some, it is easy; just spend what is invested. Dan Gilbert bought up much of downtown Detroit and renovated it, attracting people from out of state, which has actually led to people coming back to Detroit (per Census estimates, but still down from 2010).

Pittsburgh has oriented itself as a tech hub, which has slowed the decline. The problem is that most of these benefits, while benefiting the central business district and raising the prices in these areas, have not been passed along to poorer individuals in these cities. Many of the city services still have not improved for these individuals not living in the city center.

How do we pass along benefits not only to them, but also the smaller cities, such as Kenosha, Wisconsin? There are some proposals. Some involve grants being allocated to states that build environments conducive to start-ups. Others place immigrants in these particular cities for innovation's sake (similar to how refugees are placed). Some require the changing of the manufacturing still present; looking ahead to new technologies and building. Whatever it is, there has to be a solution somewhere.

I am a Rust Belt kid. I have essentially been one my entire life; I spent my years in a suburb tucked in between Dayton and Cincinnati, in a steel town called Middletown, before moving to St. Louis. While rugged, and not always aesthetically pleasing, this region is my home. These are the people I grew up with, the people that provided me with hope that the Rust Belt could cease rusting and somehow be restored. These people inspired me to write this. Not just to reverse the decline, but to bring back prosperity to people who live in the big and small cities, whether it be Detroit or Galesburg, Cleveland or Youngstown.

We will be back someday.

Popular Right Now

Top 50 Things You'll Hear A Southern Say


For those of you who may need a little help understanding the slang of a southern, I made a list of the top 50 phrases and sayings, along with their translations.

1. Bless your heart.

My favorite saying. It is an empathetic phrase that is usually uttered when the speaker believes the recipient to be sweet, but misguided or stupid. It can also be used if the speaker believes the recipient needs to grow up and deal with it, when the speaker says it in a sarcastic tone.

2. Barking up the wrong tree.

Means being misguided or mistaken.

3. Aren't you precious?

Mostly this saying is used in a sarcastic tone in response to someone being offensive.

4. Britches.

Pants or underpants.

An example would be, "Your britches are too short, you can't wear those".

5. Coke.

Regardless if it's Dr. Pepper, Coca-Cola, or another carbonated beverage, it's called Coke here in the South.

6. Fixin' to.

Simply means that you are about to do something.

7. Get the short end of the stick.

This phrase means that you basically got an unfair deal or cheated out of something.

8. Give Me Some Sugar.

Simply means give me a kiss.

9. Hissy Fit.

A hissy fit is a grown-up version of a temper tantrum that is as bad as one that a toddler would throw.

10. Hold Your Horses.

Be patient.

11. Holler.

When you say "holler" you are basically letting the other person know something.

Example: Holler at me when you are ready to get something to eat.

12. If the creek don't rise.

This saying simply means that if nothing bad happens, everything will go as planned.

13. You're as slow as molasses in the wintertime.

This phrase means that you are being EXTRA slow.

14. Muddin'.

Off-road four-wheeler riding with the intentions of getting mud everywhere and possibly losing control.

15. Skat Cat.

A phrase that can be used instead of saying "God bless you" when you sneeze.

16. There's Not A Pot Too Crooked That A Lid Won't Fit.

There is someone for everyone.

17. Pitcher.

We mostly mean a plastic container that holds sweet tea, not the position of a guy on the baseball team.

18. Reckon.

When you say "I reckon", you believe that something is true.

19. Hoot With The Owls, Soar With The Eagles.

This simple phrase means that if you are going to stay up all night, you should be able to get early in the morning.

20. Too Big For Your Britches.

Simply means that you take yourself too seriously.

21. Stompin' Grounds.

Your hometown or where you grew up.

22. Back In The Day.

Back in the day could be a month ago, a year ago, or 20 years ago.

23. You're A Spitting Image Of (Insert Family Member).

Yes, I know I'm a spitting image of my mother. "Spitting image" simply means that you look just like someone.

24. "Darlin, Sugar, Sweetheart"

These words are simply terms of endearment.

25. Buggy.

A buggy is a cart/basket at the grocery store.

Example: Who wants to push the buggy?

26. Quit Crying Or I Will Give You Something To Cry About.

This phrase simply means to quit crying and if you didn't then more than likely you got a spanking,

27. Where You Raised In A Barn?

If you are from the South, you have probably been asked this more than once, especially when you left a door open.

28. Close The Door. You Are Letting All The Good Air Out.

This southern heat is nothing to play with. It simply means to keep the door closed so the air (or heat if its winter) stays inside.

29. You Are Going To Make Me Lose My Religion.

When you say this phrase to someone, it more than likely means that person has done something to irritate you or made you mad. Thank goodness Jesus saves.

Example: You are going to make me lose my religion.

30. You Look Like A Chicken With Your Head Cut Off.

This is said when you are running around like a crazy person. It can be said if you are looking for something that you are searching for or if you are just really busy.

31. Y'all.

The southern way to say "you all".

32. You Can't Carry A Tune In A Bucket.

If you've ever been told this, it means that you can't sing.

33. Have Their Feathers Ruffled.

You normally have your "feathers ruffled" when you are pouting.

34. Two Peas In A Pod.

When you and someone else are "two peas in a pod", it means that either you almost always together or that you two are almost identical in the way you think and do things.

35. Well Butter My Butt And Call Me A Biscuit.

This saying can be used when you are surprised or excited.

36. Don't Let The Door Hit Ya Where The Good Lord Split Ya.

When someone say this they typically mean to get out and don't let the door hit you on the way out.

37. You're As Good As Gold.

When you are "as good as gold", it means that you are well-behaved and obedient.

38. It's Raining Cats And Dogs Out There.

This simply means that the rain is really coming down hard. It's not actually raining cats and dogs, people.

39. I'm Full As A Tick.

This phrase means that you ate too much food.

40. I'm Sweating More Than A Sinner In Church.

When someone says this, it means that they are really hot and sweating A LOT.

41. Pot Calling The Kettle Black.

This phrase is used when one person is guilty of the very same thing of which they accuse another person.

42. There's More Than One Way To Skin A Cat.

It means that there is anyways more than one way to fix something.

43. Shut Yo' Mouth.

Means to be quiet or hush up.

44. Whatever Floats Your Boat.

This saying means to do whatever you want to do.

45. Slap Yo' Momma.

This phrase means that something is good.

Example: This BBQ is slap yo' momma good.

46. She's Like A Bull In A China Shop.

When you tell someone this phrase, you are telling them that they are clumsy or careless in the way that they move.

47. Cuttin' A Rug.

Cuttin' a rug is used to describe dancing.

Example: Let's go cut a rug tonight.

48. Clicker.

A clicker is another name for a TV remote.

49. Slow Your Roll.

This also means to be patient.

50. You're A Hot Mess.

When you tell someone that they are a "hot mess", you are simply telling them that they don't have it together.

Cover Image Credit:

Related Content

Connect with a generation
of new voices.

We are students, thinkers, influencers, and communities sharing our ideas with the world. Join our platform to create and discover content that actually matters to you.

Learn more Start Creating

5 Vital And Helpful Tips I Live By When Packing For A Trip

Try and pack smarter, not harder.


If you are anything like me, you tend to overpack thinking you are being a great packer and being ready for any scenario that life may throw at you. Well, that is, unfortunately untrue, and I have learned that you are only doing more harm than good. Over the years, I have come up with five tips I always use when traveling and have been proven to work. You've heard of the five golden rules of life, and, well, these are the five golden rules/tips of packing.

1. Start with a packing list.

This is the best tip I could give to anyone else who is getting ready to travel. Making a list is very useful, especially when stressed about your travel. You will not forget anything because you have it all written down. A packing list is a great way to keep organized when packing.

2. Use space bags.

Now, this is a tip my dad lives by. Space bags are great when you are packing because it protects your clothes and makes room to put a lot in your suitcase. The crazy story of a time when my dad was traveling, and his friend's bag was soaked with the shampoo he brought on the plane. All his clothes and everything inside the suitcase was ruined. So always use space bags because you never know what could happen on the flight. You can buy a space bag here.

3. Pack the essentials first.

I will be honest and say that I do over-pack a lot. I use the line "just in case" as an excuse to pack my entire house. But I have learned that packing for "just in case" is a waste of time. When you first sit down to pack, lay out all your essentials. For example, clothes that you will wear during the trip. You will be surprised to see how effective it is.

SEE ALSO: 10 Reasons Chicago Is The Best City In The World

4. ALWAYS pack an extra outfit in your carry on.

This tip is one that I have been very grateful that I used. A while ago during my trip to Canada, my check-in bag was missing and delayed for multiple hours. Luckily I had an extra outfit to keep me fresh and not feel gross. It is always crucial to this in your carry on In case of emergencies such as your bag getting lost.

5. Put identification on your suitcase.

Everyone in the airport somehow tends to have the same black or red suitcase that you have, which only means confusing when you're trying to find your check-in bag. To quickly identify your suitcase, put a sticker, or tie a ribbon on the handle. You can easily pick up your suitcase and leave. This will prevent any sneaky people trying to steal or claim that your suitcase is theirs.

P.S.: Use a bright color ribbon or a different sticker. Also, tie the ribbon properly to make sure it's secured.

I live by these five packing tips every time I travel so I hope you can use them the next time you take a trip!

Related Content

Facebook Comments