Alone in the New America

From the February 2014 Print Edition

We were surprised to meet Anthony there: a twenty-six-year-old white man in an argyle sweater vest, white dress shirt, tie, baggy plaid pants, and sneakers, at the old Methodist church in Maytown, Ohio, whose white steeple rises behind the trees in our backyard. The elderly Methodist membership had dwindled, and the church was now a charismatic congregation led by a Guatemalan pastor. That Sunday there were fifty folding chairs, all empty except for six, the occupants of which included the sound lady, the pastor’s wife, and the pastor’s mother. After the service, Anthony leaned against his car, smoking a cigarette, his three earrings and star and dove tattoos bold in the sunlight. When he found out we had moved from New York City, his blue eyes widened and his voice became animated. “Wow, that’s awesome! Man, I wanna go there sometime.” He was considering moving to Florida, he said, for a new start. His fiancée had recently broken their engagement. He had a story to tell, and he seemed eager to share it. We were in Maytown to interview young adults about their experiences forming relationships and families. So we set up a time to talk with Anthony at his parents’ ranch home, where he was living. Tucked in a valley, Maytown’s historic center is home to white working-class residents in ranch and folk Victorian homes. Many of the aging residents, post–World War II transplants from Appalachia, are retirees from union jobs at Ford or General Electric plants and are now celebrating fiftieth wedding anniversaries. Their children and grandchildren, however, are increasingly alienated from work and marriage. Many live together and have children without being married. “Marriage ruins relationships” is a common observation. Many are under- or unemployed. Continue Reading »