In his memoir Hillbilly Elegy, J.D. Vance recalled his upbringing in Middletown, Ohio, explaining the psyche of communities neglected by the “Obama economy” as jobs were lost to the effects of globalization. The election of Donald Trump shed light on these communities of disenfranchised voters of Middle America.
As globalization moved jobs overseas, industrial manufacturing communities in the U.S. fell on hard times. Blue-collar factory jobs in places like Macomb County, Michigan; Youngstown, Ohio; and South Bend, Indiana gave way to drug use, joblessness and despair.
We are now faced with the question of how to help these communities going forward.
The United States should cast its glance across the Mediterranean and follow Israel’s lead. Israel’s Southern Negev region managed to make the desert bloom and is now successfully transforming a nearly uninhabitable desert into a desirable community of students, young families and innovation, all while supporting the region’s blue-collar jobs. It would behoove America’s rural cities to do the same.
According to Tamar Gil, director of resource development for Tor Hamidbar, an organization working to develop the Negev, the number of students who stay in the Negev after university has doubled in the past ten years. For young Israelis, moving to the periphery may be their only realistic ticket to even dream of buying a home.
Gil’s organization began mentoring young residents who run social businesses in their peripheral communities when they realized the large gap between those who say they would like to stay in the Negev after university and those who actually do. Gil conducted over 500 interviews to understand the needs of young adults in the region and found that lack of employment was the biggest hurdle for young people who wanted to stay in the Negev.