Posts Tagged ‘Midwest’

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Special mention

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Special mention

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According to a new study by the Southern Education Foundation [pdf], the nation’s oldest education philanthropy, 48 percent of all public school children across the nation were eligible for free or reduced lunch in 2011.*

Even more:

  • The rate of low income students in the South was 53 percent – the highest rate among the regions of the nation.
  • For the first time in recent history, at least half of the public school students in the West were low income. (The Midwest had the next highest rate, 44 percent, and the Northeast had a rate of 40 percent).
  • The nation’s cities have the highest rates of low income students in public schools. Sixty percent of the public school children in America’s cities were in low income households in 2011. The Northeast had the highest rates for low income school children in cities: 71 percent.
  • Fifty-two percent of all students attending public schools in America’s towns (located outside urban and suburban areas) were eligible for free or reduced meals in 2011.

And the conclusion:

Within the next few years, it is likely that low income students will become a majority of all public school children in the United States.With huge, stubbornly unchanging gaps in learning, schools in the South and across the nation face the real danger of becoming entrenched, inadequately funded educational systems that enlarge the division in America between haves and have-nots and endanger the entire nation’s prospects.

*Students are eligible for free or reduced-price meals at public schools if they live in households in which the income is 185 percent or less than the poverty threshold. In 2011, for example, a student in a household with a single parent with an annual income of less than $26,956 was eligible for a free or reduced-price lunch at a public school.

The battle is on, between “ruin porn” and “rust-belt chic.”

Fortunately, Will Doig sees through both.

Demand for decay could spell a new era for post-industrial cities — or run its course as a faddish blip that attracted more media coverage than actual converts. . .

.  . .Rust Belt chic is at least partly a romantic fantasy, and that makes it a risky way to try to revitalize. Last year, Guernica magazine ran a withering critique of what it called “Detroitism,” the fetish for crumbling urban landscapes mixed with eccentric utopian delusions, “where bohemians from expensive coastal cities can have the $100 house and community garden of their dreams.” What these dreams seldom include, however, are the almost unimaginable systemic problems many of these cities suffer from: failed schools, violent crime, the threat of municipal bankruptcy. Photographers parachuting in to shoot Michigan Central Station and Anthony Bourdain’s gushing endorsement may be clouding the fact that cities in crisis won’t be lifted by chicness alone.

What struggling cities need are jobs, and not just jobs at coffee roasteries in abandoned railroad terminals that make for great style-section articles. “The only way [a turnaround] will really happen is by reintroducing meaningful, equitably compensated work into these cities,” says Catherine Tumber, author of “Small, Gritty and Green: The Promise of America’s Smaller Industrial Cities in a Low-Carbon World.” “This longing can be expressed aesthetically, but it can only be satisfied by restoring the workforce.”

Should we be nostalgic for industry in the hinterlands?

Here are the opening paragraphs of my remarks during a very good session on that theme at the annual meetings of the American Anthropological Association in Montréal:

I hate nostalgia. And I especially hate the nostalgia for industry in the hinterland.

I live in, work in, and drive through that hinterland—from the South Side of Chicago through Gary and Michigan City to South Bend. And I find a shared nostalgia for industry, especially on the Left, particularly among left-wing activists and union members. A nostalgia for a previous period of manufacturing (located sometime, it’s never clear, in the 1950s, 1960s, or 1970s), which is connected (at least in their minds) with good working-class jobs and good working-class politics.

(Nostalgia isn’t, of course, a monopoly of the Left. The right-wing, in the United States, Western Europe, and elsewhere in the world today, is busy building a bridge to the 19th century. Their own fantasy of a better time and place, when robber barons ruled, taxes were low, government regulations were minimal.)

I hate both kinds of nostalgia. But certainly, for the purposes of our discussion today, the nostalgia for industry in the hinterland. Who in their right mind wants that industry back? The stockyards of Chicago, the steel mills of Gary and Michigan City, the Studebaker plant of South Bend. Not me.

I’m glad they’re closed (or, in the case of the steel mills, barely operating—mostly for specialty steel, since the bulk steel is all now imported). They were horrible jobs, under terrible work conditions and poor pay. Industries that first built and transformed and then devastated the entire hinterland between Chicago and South Bend.

Nope, I have absolutely no use for that kind of nostalgia. It romanticizes a time that never was, and remains mired in a vision of how things were, mourning the loss, unable to grasp the possibilities of moving in a new and different direction.

Kate Zernike gets it:

The ferment in the Midwest — a place that many people on the coasts assume just waits around for revolutionary ideas to be flown in, like day-old sushi — exists in part because the region has been the center of so much of the industry where the union movement first took hold.

So does Rosemary Feurer (in the same article):

“The play by the governor is part of a longer history and a longer struggle over ideas and social policy,” said Rosemary Feurer, a labor historian at Northern Illinois University. “When I see this I think, history doesn’t repeat itself, but it sure does rhyme.”

In her book, “Radical Unionism in the Midwest, 1900-1950,” Professor Feurer recounts how companies in the electrical industry in St. Louis started a network known as the Metal Trades Association in the first part of the 20th century to fight union organizing. The association had been alarmed by union protests that erupted violently with the Haymarket Square riot in 1886 and the demands for an eight-hour day, which started with the 1894 Pullman strike in Illinois — an early effort by Eugene V. Debs, the former Indiana legislator and future Socialist Party candidate for president.

“That left a legacy of the 1930s and ’40s for employers to form deep right-wing networks,” Professor Feurer said.

That network, she argues, was the precursor to the Midwestern groups that have now been assisting the fight against the unions in Wisconsin, Ohio and Indiana: the Bradley Foundation, based in Milwaukee, and Koch Industries, based in Wichita, Kan. David H. and Charles G. Koch, the billionaire brothers behind the energy and manufacturing conglomerate that bears their name, have been large donors to Mr. Walker in Wisconsin, as has their advocacy group, Americans for Prosperity, which first opened an office in Wisconsin in 2005.

Along the way, Zernike presents pieces of the history—about both sides of the class conflict—that we would do well to keep in mind in trying to make sense of what is going on today not only in Wisconsin but also in Ohio, Indiana, and elsewhere in the Midwest.