Sit and Wait for the Sadness

The American Prospect

The Ozarks—land of hillbillies and a few vast modern fortunes—are the setting for recent literary thrillers.

The Ozarks, a plateau carved by rivers and streams into what are generously called mountains, have always felt like their own American planet, jutting up from what should be uninterrupted plains. They cover the isolated southern half of Missouri and the northern half of Arkansas, an area that’s been largely left out of the national consciousness until now. It’s easy to date recent interest in the Ozarks to the 2010 movie Winter’s Bone, based on a novel by the same name, which received four Oscar nominations and launched Jennifer Lawrence’s film career. A meth-fueled mystery that followed Lawrence’s character as she tried to find her drug-dealer father and save her mother’s family’s land, the movie was treated by reviewers as more documentary than fiction, a portrayal of desperate poverty in a foreign patch of America. 

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The Life and Death of Crystal Wilson

The American Prospect

For most Americans, life expectancy continues to rise—but not for uneducated white women. They have lost five years, and no one knows why.

On the night of May 23, 2012, which turned out to be the last of her life, Crystal Wilson baby-sat her infant granddaughter, Kelly. It was how she would have preferred to spend every night. Crystal had joined Facebook the previous year, and the picture of her daughter cradling the newborn in the hospital bed substituted for a picture of herself. Crystal’s entire wall was a catalog of visits from her nieces, nephews, cousins’ kids, and, more recently, the days she baby-sat Kelly. She was a mother hen, people said of Crystal. She’d wanted a house full of children, but she’d only had one.

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The Weeklies

The American Prospect

In the Denver suburbs, as in much of the U.S., the Great Recession turned formerly stable families into the new homeless—and left many living in budget hotels.

From the outside, it is hard to know that people live in the Ramada Inn. The parking lot is always empty. The hotel sits facing a wide suburban boulevard called Kipling Street, just off Interstate 70 in Wheat Ridge, Colorado. The interchange where Kipling meets the freeway is packed mornings and evenings with daily commuters going to or coming from Denver and with skiers heading west into the Rockies. Hotels dot I-70 as it cuts through the 764-square-mile stretch of suburbia that runs from the city into the mountains, but at the intersection with Kipling is a cluster of seven budget-savers that travel websites warn tourists away from. The hotels advertise low prices—ranging from $36 to $89 a night—on neon signs next to gigantic flags that whip in the Front Range wind. Most offer even lower weekly or monthly rates. The Ramada is farther from the frontage road than the other hotels and is harder to notice, with its plain yellow stucco and dimly lit red sign.  

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The Collapse of Black Wealth

The American Prospect

Prince George's County was a symbol of America's new black wealth. Then came the housing crisis.

When Joe Parker was a young, newly married public-school administrator who wanted to buy a home in 1974, he didn’t even think about leaving Prince George’s County, Maryland. It was where he and his parents had grown up. But when Parker first tried to bid on a house in a new development in Mitchellville, a small farming community that was sprouting ranch and split-level homes on old plantation lands, the real-estate agent demurred, claiming there were other buyers. In truth, the development had been built to lure white, middle-class families to the county, which sits just east of Washington, D.C. Parker never told the agent that he served on a new county commission to enforce laws forbidding housing discrimination. He just persisted, he says, until he and his wife were able to bid. “My wife kept saying, ‘Why don’t you tell him?’” Parker recalls, but he refused to pull rank. “I said no, because what does the next black man do?”

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The Political Education of Elizabeth Warren

The American Prospect

Supporters of the Massachusetts Democrat thought she had a lock on Ted Kennedy's old Senate seat. But the campaign has proved that's far from true.

In early October 2011, Shannon Sherman, a pregnant nurse who was two weeks from her due date, met Elizabeth Warren, though she didn’t know it at the time. All Sherman knew was that a friendly woman said hello to her in the ladies’ room at the Massachusetts Nurses Association’s annual conference, asked how far along she was, and shared a chuckle about the difficulties and indignities of the ninth month of pregnancy. Sherman had heard of Warren; the previous summer, the nurses' union had been among the first to endorse the Democrat in the 2012 Senate race, just after she left a job in Washington overseeing the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.* Like many progressive groups, the union was eager to encourage Warren to jump into the race for the Senate seat Ted Kennedy had held for 47 years until his death in 2009. Scott Brown, a Republican, had won a special election in January 2010, and Democrats were still aghast over it. 

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Pressing on the Upward Way

The American Prospect

A profile of life in one of the country's poorest counties.

By her second semester of college, in the spring of 2008, Sue Christian was about as tired as she’d ever been in her 40 years. It wasn’t that her studies kept her working hard; she was used to long hours. It wasn’t that she was missing her salary; she was already good at fretting over bills. It wasn’t that the daily trip from her home in Booneville, Kentucky, was more than an hour long, a drive that, when rains washed out a one-lane bridge, took her over the nauseating Hatton Holler Mountain. It was more that, listening to lecture after lecture in crowded classrooms with people half her age, Sue felt her brain was stretched as far as it would go. “I thought, ‘I’m so dumb, I’m not good at college,’” she says. “Professors seemed to be more focused toward that age group fresh out of high school. So, if you’re past that, it’s like, ‘Catch up or get out.’”

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Moral Combat

The American Prospect

Why do liberals play computer games like conservatives?

Simulated Monica's troubles began as soon as I hit play. She could never work her way past an entry-level job on the graveyard shift. No one in her family could cook, which left them all to subsist on a diet of takeout pizza. One day, Sim Monica's husband moved out and was gone forever, leaving Sim Monica a single mom. Their son was never entertained, sated, or well rested enough to study, and he earned F's until he was shipped off to military school. Sim Monica, alone and penniless, eventually died of starvation and neglect because I never figured out that a misplaced kitchen cabinet was blocking her access to the refrigerator.

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The Serfs of Arkansas

The American Prospect

Immigrant farmers are flocking to the poultry industry -- only to become 21st-century sharecroppers for companies like Tyson.

Shane Tawr doesn't remember exactly why he first decided to try his hand at chicken farming. Tawr had a government job in Milwaukee but wanted relief from the city's bustle. He decided in 2004 to head down to the Ozarks, buy a chicken farm, and work for himself, just as many of his Hmong ancestors had done in Laos.

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Why Aren't You Married yet?

The American Prospect

Apparently, I'm responsible for the jerks I've dated.

At a March luncheon celebrating the release of the new book Manning Up: How the Rise of Women Has Turned Men Into Boys, it wasn't long before things got really personal.

"Before [today], the fact is that primarily, a 20-year-old woman would have been a wife and a mother," author Kay Hymowitz told the crowd of about 100 for the Manhattan Institute event in New York City. Men would have been mowing lawns and changing the oil in their family sedans instead of playing video games and watching television. In previous decades, adults in their 20s and 30s were too busy with real life for such empty entertainment, Hymowitz says. "They didn't live with roommates in Williamsburg in Brooklyn and Dupont Circle in D.C."

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