Back Row Hillbillies: Chris Arnade And J.D. Vance Talk About The Rust Belt

By Erin Mundahl
InsideSources.com, Washington, D.C.

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Chris Arnade, a former Wall Street trader, has spent the last three years taking pictures and talking to people in economically depressed regions. V.D. Vance is returning to Ohio to work for a venture capital firm focusing on investing in the area. The two approach the issue of regional economic stagnation from very different angles. What Vance and Arnade agree upon is that the Rust Belt needs economic revitalization.

Washington, D.C.

Chris Arnade calls them “back-row kids.” They are the ones left behind by the global, post-industrial economy.

They live in places like Flint, Michigan and Youngstown, Ohio. Some of them are the same “hillbillies” V.D. Vance described in his bestseller, Hillbilly Elegy.

Far too often, these are the people struggling to find gainful employment and to form a sense of community in the post-industrial Midwest, the region sadly deemed the Rust Belt.

Arnade, a former Wall Street trader, has spent the last three years taking pictures and talking to people in economically depressed regions. Vance is returning to Ohio to work for a venture capital firm focusing on investing in the area.

The two men approach the issue of regional economic stagnation from very different angles. Vance’s book, part autobiography and part social commentary, focuses on culture and personal decisions.

Meanwhile, Arnade focuses on individual stories, seeing the larger trend as indicative of a structural failure in the economy.

Speaking at the “Rise of the Rest” conference in Washington on Thursday, Vance spoke with Steve Case of Revolution Venture Capital about promoting new development in unexpected place, such as the Rust Belt. On Friday, Arnade spoke to a small group at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.

Arguing that the “most fundamental divide beyond race is education,” Arnade focused on the lives of people who lacked the education or financial resources to succeed in the current economy. Interested in understanding Trump’s success, Arnade looked at the counties that swung from Obama to Trump in Michigan and Ohio. He described these areas as towns “where Walmart was built on the site of the old factory.”

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