Citizen Action Monitor

Heartbreaking story of Dayton Ohio’s struggle to recover from Great Recession of 2008

Once-vibrant Dayton dealing with rise in violence, opiate and drug addiction, unemployment, income inequality, urban blight, and more.

No 2408 Posted by fw, January 3, 2019

“I first came to Dayton as a reporter in 2012. I came back several times in early 2016, for an article I was doing on what was happening in the country’s politics that year. … I’ve kept coming back to this area because I think Dayton is representative of a whole swath of our country today. We talk a lot about income inequality and the urban-rural divide. But the gaps we’re dealing with are also between cities – between cities that are absorbing an ever-greater share of prosperity, and places like this that are being left behind – small and midsize cities that used to matter a whole lot to what our country invented, made and aspired to. They don’t seem to matter as much now, but they do. They’re heavily concentrated in our political battleground states and are at the heart of the national debate about trade and employment. They’re ground zero of a drug epidemic that’s on pace to claim another six lives before this film is over. So how did all this happen in a country that is supposedly at the crest of an economic recovery?”Alec MacGillis, Senior Reporter, ProPublica

Urban blight in Dayton Onio

Below is my repost of a collaborative report by Frontline and ProPublica reporter Alec MacGillis, presented in three sections: 1) An embedded 52-minute Frontline video about the downfall of Dayton; 2) MacGillis’ accompanying article on a Dayton still struggling to recover from the devastating Great Recession; and 3) a full transcript of the video.

In his concluding on-camera comment in the video, MacGillis asks the key question – What to do about places like Dayton? – putting his response this way –

This question of what you do about places like Dayton, places whose glory days have passed, is a really tricky one for this country because we’ve really never been good about figuring out what to do with the places that are no longer on the cutting edge; the places that are no longer the hubs of innovation. We’ve never done that. We’ve never felt the need to do that. We just move on to the next thing, move on to the next place.


Section 1 – The Video

Left Behind America Frontline and ProPublica, 2018 (52-minutes)

Posted on You Tube by AvapXia on October 28, 2018


Section 2 – Article by Alec MacGillis

How Struggling Dayton, Ohio Reveals the Chasm Among American Cities, by Alex MacGillis, Frontline and ProPublica, September 11, 2018

The news this past year has been full of the tribulations facing the cities at the vanguard of the great urban rebirth. There are fights over Uber limits in New York, cash-free purchasing in Washington, D.C., and extreme housing costs in San Francisco.

Dayton, Ohio, has been grappling with a different set of concerns. For example, there was a spate of disturbing, unexplained deaths in a formerly middle-class neighborhood just northwest of downtown. Over the span of seven months, five women’s bodies were found scattered around the area, at least three of them the victims of homicides, the others likely dead by overdose. Three had gone undiscovered for so long that they’d been partly eaten by animals. The deaths, and their aftermath, seemed to capture three of the city’s pathologies — violence, drug abuse and abandonment — inside an area of little more than a few square blocks.

The plight of small and mid-sized post-industrial cities like Dayton is hardly new, but it’s gotten obscured in recent years. The 2016 election drew a lot of attention to the urban-rural divide — between vibrant blue islands and fading red expanses that turned out so strongly for Donald Trump. What all the talk of the urban-rural gap overlooks is the growing divide among cities, too.

There have always been more and less wealthy cities, but nothing like what is on display today, as a select group of hyper-prosperous cities put ever-greater distance between themselves and their counterparts. Consider this. In 1980, even after the first wave of deindustrialization, Middle American cities such as Dayton were remarkably close to par with their coastal peers. Per capita income in the Seattle area was only 16 percent greater than in the Dayton area. In metro Boston, the edge was only 6 percent. In New York, 14 percent. In Washington, 31 percent. And in the San Francisco Bay Area, 33 percent.

All those cities have since left Dayton in the dust. Seattle’s per capita income is now 48 percent greater. Boston’s edge has jumped all the way to 61 percent — a tenfold increase. New York and Washington are both over 50 percent greater. And in the Bay Area, per capita income is 94 percent greater than in the Dayton area — that is, almost double. (And these stats are for the whole Dayton area, not just the diminished city proper, which has lost nearly half its population since 1960, to about 140,000 today, and where more than a third of the population now lives in poverty.) You’ll find similarly widening gaps if you substitute Dayton with St. Louis or Milwaukee or Fresno or Buffalo.

You hardly need income data, though, to discern these divides. Just use your own eyes. Take, for instance, the increasingly stark contrast between Washington, D.C., and Baltimore, where I live. A few decades ago, the cities were strikingly similar in their scale, levels of wealth and urban challenges — in fact, Baltimore’s population was 150,000 larger than D.C.’s as recently as 1980.

Today, to travel the 40 miles between the two cities is to risk vertigo, so wildly disparate have they become in cost of living, income levels and growth trajectory. Baltimore is laboring to demolish thousands of late-19th century townhouses that would each fetch close to seven figures in many parts of D.C. Last year, a single realtor in D.C. sold five homes for more than $3.7 million each, more than any home sold in Baltimore that year. Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan in 2015 approved an expansion of the Washington Metro while killing a new rail line for Baltimore’s paltry transit system, furthering the divide.

You might expect regional inequality to self-correct, given how costly and congested the hyper-prosperous cities have become. Instead, the success of these cities feeds on itself, as more employers and highly educated people decide they need to be where the action is. It’s a winner-take-all, rich-get-richer effect. The result is less than ideal for everyone: Those in the winner-take-all cities struggle to get by even with a decent salary, while those in the left-behind cities face demoralizing blight and struggle to find fulfilling work.

This is the exact opposite of what was supposed to happen in the digital age. The internet was supposed to free us to live anywhere. But as Berkeley economist Enrico Moretti foresaw in his 2011 book, “The New Geography of Jobs,” the tech economy in fact encourages agglomeration: Innovation happens best in close proximity, not to mention that it’s easier to make your venture-capital pitch face-to-face. “It is almost as if, starting in the 1980s, the American economy bifurcated,” Moretti wrote. “On one side, cities with little human capital and traditional economies started experiencing diminishing returns and stiff competition from abroad. On the other, cities rich in human capital and economies based on knowledge-intensive sectors started seeing increasing returns and took full advantage of globalized markets.”

The irony for Dayton is that it knows the value of innovation clusters as well as anywhere. In the early decades of the last century, the city was home not only to the Wright brothers, but to lesser known inventors like Charles Kettering, who is credited with the electrical starting motor, among many automotive advances. The difference in the industrial age was that the manufacturing that flowed from those advances could be done just about anywhere with manpower, raw materials and transportation access. Today, manufacturing is typically done overseas, while the wealth accumulates in the hub cities where the intellectual property originated.

Economic concentration also plays a role in how the tech economy fuels regional inequality. As certain industries become dominated by certain companies — think of Google and Facebook’s growing share of ad revenue, or Amazon’s growing share of retail — it follows that more and more wealth flows to the places where those companies are based: the Bay Area and Seattle.

Social factors play a role, too. Since workers are less likely to spend their careers with one employer, they’re more likely to seek out a city where they can easily find a new job in their field if one doesn’t work out. You’re more likely to take a biotech job in Boston than that one intriguing option in Rochester. The rise of the two-income professional couple exacerbates this; you understandably want to be somewhere where both of you can find good jobs. Then there’s the growing tendency of well-off people to live amongst themselves, rather than in more mixed-income places, which increasingly concentrates them not only in certain neighborhoods, but certain metro areas. Call it the Brookline or Bethesda effect: seeking security in the comfort of excellent schools full of the children of fellow highly educated achievers.

The regional inequality is most glaring when it comes to the hyper-prosperous coastal enclaves, but it plays out within the interior, as well. Optimists about Middle America like to point to a handful of non-coastal cities that are thriving, without noting the many nearby cities being left behind. You hear a lot about Nashville, but less about Memphis; a lot about Columbus, but less about Akron and Toledo. As a recent report by the Greater Ohio Policy Center found, Columbus, which was from its founding less reliant on manufacturing than other Ohio cities, has in recent years “diverged dramatically” from other cities in the state on a whole range of economic measures, including population growth, poverty rates, labor force participation, and median income. More often than not, these regional winners are home to state capitals and major public universities: talented students head there for college, and don’t come back.

Too often, talk about left-behind regions is met by eye-rolling from cosmopolitans who view it as yet another attempt to summon sympathy for woebegone Trump voters. But this betrays a misreading of who lives in these struggling cities. Yes, they’re home to white working-class Obama-Trump voters. They’re also each home to tens of thousands of African-Americans, many of whom voted for Hillary Clinton, and many others of whom stayed home, seeing nothing on offer to address their plight. (Dayton proper is 40 percent black.) It was the combination of these voting blocs that explained Clinton’s losses in Midwestern states — not just voters turning to Trump, but Democrats in Milwaukee and Detroit and Cleveland who stayed home or voted third party.

Nan Whaley, the mayor of Dayton, joked darkly in a recent interview with me about how it took the 2016 election to draw notice to the plight of Middle America. “I mean, like look, I think the coastals need to pay attention to this because we can destroy elections,” she said. “You know, that’s what we can do, and I mean, then we get your attention.” Regardless of the cause, the growing regional disparities are starting to get overdue scrutiny from at least some in the upper echelons. Earlier this year, Larry Summers, the former treasury secretary, co-authored a big paper with Harvard colleagues Benjamin Austin and Edward Glaeser titled Saving the Heartland, which makes the case for place-based policies such as increasing wage subsidies like the Earned Income Tax Credit in struggling areas. The problem has also attracted AOL co-founder Steve Case, who, with “Hillbilly Elegy” author J.D. Vance, has been trying to draw more venture capital to Middle America.

For now, though, these cities are forging ahead on their own. For Dayton, that has meant, among other things, trying to make itself welcoming to immigrants and refugees. This effort has succeeded in one regard: The city has drawn hundreds of Ahiska Turks, an ethnic Turkish minority who were persecuted in Russia and former Soviet republics and briefly granted refugee status last decade. The Ahiska Turks have prospered in the trucking industry — their luxury cars are a familiar sight around Dayton — and they have renovated countless formerly vacant homes on the north side. As Islom Shakhbandarov, a community leader who co-owns a trucking company called American Power, put it to me with a knowing smile as he sat behind his big executive desk: “I see the opportunity, because it was almost empty — and there was room to fill it.” But this solution only goes so far for struggling cities at a time when the Trump administration is sharply curtailing refugee admissions, especially when it comes to Muslim refugees such as the Ahiska Turks.

Cities like Dayton are also embracing job growth of a sort that not so long ago would have been considered beneath them. The vast GM plant just south of the city that shut down in 2008 is now home to a Chinese-owned auto glass company called Fuyao. It employs more than 2,000, which helps explain why the unemployment rate in the Dayton area is back to pre-recession levels. But Fuyao pays much less than GM did. Wages start at about $15, and the work is grueling; an employee was crushed to death in March.

When I asked Cho Tak Wong, the billionaire founder and CEO of Fuyao, about the wages, he objected to the premise of my question. The proper comparison, he said, was not to what people used to make in Dayton, but to wages in Mexico and China, by which yardstick Fuyao’s pay in Dayton looked okay. “Old GM workers are very thankful towards us, because they lost their jobs after the closure,” he said. “They are very happy since we came and offered them jobs.

In fact, happiness is an emotion on scant display in Dayton these days. The city has been one of the hardest hit by the opioid epidemic: nearly 400 people died of fatal overdoses in Montgomery County, which includes Dayton, in just the first half of last year, eclipsing the county’s total for the entire year prior. Montgomery County Coroner Kent Harshbarger has deployed refrigerator truck back-ups usually reserved for mass fatality events. The overdose rate abated slightly over the second half of the year, as the fentanyl strains in the local heroin supply weakened. That drop-off sadly did not happen in Baltimore, which ended 2017 with a stunning tally of 761 fatal overdoses.

For all the talk about the opioid epidemic leaving few places untouched, the fact is that it’s hit far harder in struggling cities than in winner-take-all ones. And once the struggling cities become known as thriving markets for illegal opiates, they draw ever more addicts from nearby towns and suburbs, who avail themselves both of the drug supply and of local social services: shelters, soup kitchens, and drug treatment programs that aren’t available in the communities from which they’ve come. It’s a dark inversion of the winner-take-all dynamic in prosperous cities: instead of drawing ever more wealthy professionals, the struggling cities draw ever more people in desperate straits.

Judging by the opioid epidemic stats alone, these cities come across as awfully bleak. Nonetheless, I’ve developed a strong fondness for them — not just a fondness, but a preference for them over the winner-take-all cities. They are vastly more affordable, making possible a more expansive, less stressed existence; they are places where, thanks to their high need and smaller scale, one committed person or family can make a real difference.

And they offer countless offbeat discoveries of the sort one is less likely to find in glossier environs. One evening in Dayton — at the end of a day when I observed a harrowing autopsy at the coroner’s office of a 45-year-old woman who had suffered a drug overdose — I stumbled upon a chess club inside an abandoned retail building downtown with a beautiful terra-cotta façade. There, I played a couple close games against a local community college student, and then wound up having dinner in a friendly tavern that turns out to be one of just two cooperatively owned brewpubs in the country. Naturally, I bought a share.

But the fates of these cities can’t depend on just the predilections of this or that new arrival with a soft spot for the underdog. The country must decide what it’s willing to do to narrow the regional gaps, from tackling economic concentration to targeting public investment. For some time, there’s been a growing awareness of the problem in having so much wealth concentrated in such a narrow slice of the income ladder. It’s now worth also considering what it means to have so much wealth concentrated in a narrow slice of cities.


Section 3 – Full Transcript of Left Behind America

NEWSCASTER: It sounds like tough times in Dayton, Ohio, when you hear about the thousands of layoffs at General Motors.

ARCHIVAL SOUND: We have hit double digits on the unemployment rate now and this is the highest since the early 1980s.

NEWSCASTER: …stating that 598 employees will lose their jobs when the company pulls out.

NEWSCASTER: Dayton, Ohio, has become ground zero for America’s overdose crisis, killing more people across the country than ever before.

911 OPERATOR: What’s the address of your emergency?

NEWSCASTER: And local officers are involved in cracking down on the heroin problem that’s growing in Dayton.

NEWSCASTER: …in Ohio, where officials say they are on track for 10,000 overdose deaths.

ARCHIVAL SOUND: The economy is so bad right now and the job loss in the Dayton area…

NEWSCASTER: …this state for Donald Trump. Donald Trump has won the state of Ohio.

ARCHIVAL SOUND: It’s just going to cause some economic, just destruction to this area.

ARCHIVAL SOUND: But I think it’s starting to come back.

ALEC MACGILLIS, Senior Reporter, ProPublica: [voice-over] I first came to Dayton as a reporter in 2012. I came back several times in early 2016, for an article I was doing on what was happening in the country’s politics that year. The city itself would go for Hillary Clinton. The county it’s part of backed Donald Trump – the first time a Republican had won there in 28 years. I’ve kept coming back to this area because I think Dayton is representative of a whole swath of our country today. We talk a lot about income inequality and the urban-rural divide. But the gaps we’re dealing with are also between cities – between cities that are absorbing an ever-greater share of prosperity, and places like this that are being left behind – small and midsize cities that used to matter a whole lot to what our country invented, made and aspired to. They don’t seem to matter as much now, but they do. They’re heavily concentrated in our political battleground states and are at the heart of the national debate about trade and employment. They’re ground zero of a drug epidemic that’s on pace to claim another six lives before this film is over. So how did all this happen in a country that is supposedly at the crest of an economic recovery?

ALEC MACGILLIS: [on camera] The poverty rate in Dayton is 34.5 percent, which is nearly three times the poverty rate nationwide. And remember, this was the place that just a few decades ago was an epitome of, of American wealth and prosperity and ingenuity. Now more than a third of the people in this city are living in poverty.

NAN WHALEY, Mayor of Dayton: Dayton is a place that believed in: You work hard, you play by the rule, and good things will come to your family. And for the past hundred years, you know, until about the Great Recession, that was continuing to happen. Right? They believe your child could do better. I, I’m a product of the American dream. You know my parents, my dad worked at General Motors. He got a good wage. That wage he saved to help send me and my brother to school. My brother is an attorney. I’m the mayor of Dayton. Right?

SINGERS: What a day for picking daisies and lots of red balloons.

NAN WHALEY: I don’t know if a girl that’s 20 years younger than me, her dad’s not going to get paid the kind of wage and have the kind of pension my dad had. And so the cost of college will be out of reach for her. And no, I don’t think that she’ll get there.

ALEC MACGILLIS: [voice-over] This assessment of Dayton is hard to reconcile with the city’s extraordinary past. It’s no exaggeration to say that Dayton was once the epitome of industry and ingenuity in the American heartland.

MARK BERNSTEIN, Historian and author: Dayton, Ohio, was the Silicon Valley of its age. It was the center of the most important inventions. It was the center of aviation, it was the center of automotive inventions, and it was the center of a great many lesser inventions, which collectively brought form to the American 20th century.

NEWSREEL: Orville Wright piloted the crude flying machine in the now-classic 140-foot, 12-second first flight.

ALEC MACGILLIS: [voice-over] We all know about the Wright Brothers, of course, who got their start making bicycles in Dayton. But they weren’t alone. In the early 1900s, Dayton was filing more patents per capita than anywhere else in the country. One of the most important was the cash register, which revolutionized the retail business and made National Cash Register a dominant presence in Dayton.

NEWSREEL: Look at the spirit around here. You feel it anywhere you go in the plant. That NCR family spirit is no bunk.

MARK BERNSTEIN: What happened in Dayton was innovation became industry, became General Motors, became Delco, became National Cash Register. There were 70 or 80,000 good-paying union jobs in Dayton, Ohio.

ALEC MACGILLIS: [voice-over] When World War II broke out, Dayton’s heavy industries retooled for the war effort – rubber, auto parts, airplane gears, propellers, all indispensable, and all manufactured in Dayton.

NEWSREEL: General Motors has pioneered in applying mass production methods to the manufacture of bombers – bombers to blast the way for our fighting forces. Dayton has a story to tell: the story of a city at war!

ALEC MACGILLIS: [voice-over] The war effort raised workers’ fortunes across the country and Dayton was no exception.

PROFESSOR JACOB S. HACKER, Yale University: If you look at the period from roughly the 1930s to the 1970s, you had a period of broad-based prosperity. The middle class and those at the bottom saw their incomes rise more quickly than those at the top. Tens, hundreds of millions of Americans over time became owners of housing for the first time.

ALEC MACGILLIS: [voice-over] Sensing opportunity, people were pouring in to Dayton. Whites from Appalachia and blacks from the Deep South.

NEWSREEL: Dayton is crammed, jammed, every living facility packed. This is Dayton on a Monday night or a Wednesday night. The retail stores are open. The markets are open. The department stores are open. The banks are open.

ALEC MACGILLIS: [voice-over] By 1960, the city’s population reached 262,000.

PROFESSOR EKOW N. YAHKAH, Cardozo School of Law: And then, sadly, things get ugly fast. In part, it’s because a lot of people were terrified of what this racial integration would mean.

ALEC MACGILLIS: [on camera] A lot of the new workers that came to Dayton were black, coming up as part of the Great Migration from the South. And people were were not comfortable with their new neighbors.

PROFESSOR EKOW N. YAHKAH: And so we get the first round of white flight. And that means a bunch of things happen. Right? One, you’re no longer invested in what goes on in the city. So you’re consumed quite rationally with making sure that all your tax dollars help your suburban school district. When you hollow a community out of its lawyers, its doctors, its nurses, its teachers, those who hold communities best together, what you’re going to see is terribly predictable. The pathologies of urban life consumed communities.

ALEC MACGILLIS: [voice-over] And many black families who wanted to move to the suburbs and other parts of town found the door blocked.

PROFESSOR EKOW N. YAHKAH: Banks literally drew lines around neighborhoods to decide which African-Americans were going to get loans for which homes. That’s what we call redlining. So then an African-American who could afford to buy the home where the great school was or that was close to a park or et cetera, et cetera, couldn’t.

ALEC MACGILLIS: [voice-over] In Dayton, the result was African-Americans being largely clustered in West Dayton, where money and resources steadily declined.

JO’EL THOMAS-JONES, Co-founder, Neighborhoods Over Politics: West Dayton, you had middle-class African-American and white families living side by side, kids who went to school, two-parent homes, a car. You know, the typical house with the two kids, a dog and a white picket fence. Now we have dilapidated housing. We are losing our hospital. We have lost our business. And that has become the new normal in West Dayton.

ALEC MACGILLIS: [voice-over] Mike and Willa Strickland and her six boys live in West Dayton’s Hilltop Homes.

WILLA STRICKLAND: You know where the top is?

ALEC MACGILLIS: [voice-over] It’s a public housing complex in a crime-ridden neighborhood.

MICHAEL STRICKLAND: Before you all eat, I need you all to say your prayers.

CHILDREN: [recite prayer]

ALEC MACGILLIS: [voice-over] Moving here was their best option, despite working two jobs, but it was a step up from the homeless shelter they were in before.

WILLA STRICKLAND: The shelter was an experience. It was very different because they dealt with the outbreak of like bedbugs and something called scabies that I never knew nothing about. And it was just like really overwhelming.

MICHAEL STRICKLAND: Well, at the time, we just had one income coming into the house so it was, it was… We could be able to afford it but it was like we couldn’t afford to pay anything else, you know what I’m saying, and take care of the kids.

CHILD: Will you turn it up, please?

ALEC MACGILLIS: [voice-over] Willa had just started working in customer service for an insurance company. Mike is a line worker at a meat-packaging plant.

MICHAEL STRICKLAND: Yeah, my life is different than my parents’ life. They was middle class. They both had good, decent jobs. My dad, he was a, he was a chemist and my mom, she was a registered nurse.

WILLA STRICKLAND: If you already had food, you should have said you had food already before I gave you that. I grew up right here on the west end of town. I moved when I was about eight, so I didn’t really kind of grow up my older days here. I moved to Atlanta. Then I came back when I graduated high school. When I came back, it’s just like nothing was here.

MICHAEL STRICKLAND: They just tore everything down and didn’t replace it. Now it’s just like a ghost town.

JO’EL THOMAS-JONES: So the community is considered to be heavy with poverty. It is no longer attractive for corporate America to invest in. And so people or corporations pull out without any apology, very intentional, and leave the community desperate.

ALEC MACGILLIS: [voice-over] The business community’s exit from West Dayton can be seen most starkly in a remarkable statistic. While an estimated 40 percent of the city’s population lives here, there are no grocery stores to serve them. It’s not a problem confined just to Dayton. Millions of Americans live in one of these so-called food deserts

JO’EL THOMAS-JONES: So essentially what we have here in West Dayton is no sustainable way to access fresh foods. This is an abandoned Kroger parking lot. The store’s been closed now for about 20 years. There is no place to buy a baked potato. There is no place to get a cup of coffee, to have a sip of tea. You can’t even buy a salad here. If you want to buy a salad in West Dayton, the only place you can get it is at Burger King or a McDonald’s.

ALEC MACGILLIS: [voice-over] As West Dayton has been falling the behind the rest of Dayton, on a larger scale, cities like Dayton have been falling behind the more prosperous parts of the country, going back decades.

PROFESSOR JACOB S. HACKER: If you look at the decline of manufacturing and the decline of areas where it once was vibrant, the real turning point is the late 1970s. Starting in the late 1970s, corporations started to much more aggressively push back against labor unions. And they did so in part because the economy was becoming a bit more global so they were able to threaten that they would move production overseas. And so we saw a plummeting of the role of labor unions precisely at the time that inequality was rising.

ALEC MACGILLIS: [voice-over] And then the Reagan era ushered in tax cuts for the wealthy and a wave of deregulation. At the same time, shareholders started exerting more influence on the way companies did business

RANA FOROOHAR, Associate Editor, Financial Times: You had bankers sitting in New York – corporate executives, boards far away from these communities – that thought, you know, labor was dis-, expendable. And unfortunately, we have this idea that what’s good for Wall Street is good for everybody else. Wall Street was pushing a lot of companies to offload labor costs from their balance sheet, outsource jobs abroad.

ALEC MACGILLIS: [voice-over] In 1993, Bill Clinton signed NAFTA, which sped the flight of many auto-parts makers from the Dayton area to Mexico – a deal President Trump has since been harshly critical of.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: The worst trade deal ever made by any country, I think, in the world.

ALEC MACGILLIS: [voice-over] But many economists say that the biggest hit on manufacturing areas came in 2000, when China was admitted into the World Trade Organization, which still echoes today in the trade war between the U.S. and China.

NAN WHALEY, Mayor of Dayton: When globalization happened, when the loss of the dominance of organized labor happened, that wealth was not just in one place. The wealth here was across a whole community. And when a community sits on that and that’s what they were created from and that goes away, that’s why you see such a struggle today as we move forward to redefine our economy now.

ALEC MACGILLIS: [voice-over] From 2001 through 2007, the Dayton metro area lost almost 23,000 jobs.

ARCHIVAL SOUND: Delphi really scaling back their production here in the United States. A lot of that work is going to Mexico and China. So…

ALEC MACGILLIS: [voice-over] To put it another way, nearly one in three local jobs in manufacturing vanished during that time. And things only got worse from there.

GENERAL MOTORS OFFICIAL: Today, we’re announcing our plan to, over time, cease production at four GM truck assembly plants.

ARCHIVAL SOUND: These gas prices, they’re not going down.

ALEC MACGILLIS: [voice-over] In 2008, GM closed its massive Dayton operation, citing rising gas prices and plunging sales.

NEWSCASTER: It sounds like tough times in Dayton, Ohio, when you hear about the thousands of layoffs.

NEWSCASTER: GM will close the plant for good later this year, two days before Christmas.


[voice-over] It was one of the last big auto plants in a town that once had more auto industry jobs than anywhere but Detroit.

RODNEY BRICKEY, Former GM employee: We produced quite a few GM brands – GMC Envoy, the Isuzu Ascender, Saab, Buick, Oldsmobile.

ARCHIVAL SOUND: Mexico basically is a shift in strategy.

ALEC MACGILLIS: [voice-over] Rodney Brickey was one of more than 2,000 GM workers laid off that day. He put in 14 years, starting back when his father worked there.

RODNEY BRICKEY: The insurance was pretty much unbeatable and the wages were pretty high. I’d say it probably averaged out around 35 an hour. When the plant closed here, economically it was devastating for this area because when you’re making that kind of money and something like this closes, it’s next to impossible to find something that’s compatible with that kind of wages.

ARCHIVAL SOUND: Unemployment, which now stands at…

ALEC MACGILLIS: [voice-over] But the problems for Dayton and the rest of the country were about to get worse.

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH, 2008: Millions of Americans could lose their jobs. Major financial institutions have teetered on the edge of collapse and some have failed.

ARCHIVAL SOUND: The numbers of job lost – 190,000 jobs.

ALEC MACGILLIS: [voice-over] The global economy was melting down, on its way to the Great Recession, and it was taking Dayton down with it.

ARCHIVAL SOUND: That unemployment rate is worrying, John.

PAUL LEONARD, Mayor of Dayton, 1982-1986: It was kind of like a one-two punch. I mean we had vivid memories of what happened in the 1970s. It wasn’t that long ago, and it was like: Oh no, not again.

NEWSCASTER: Now to Ohio, where the economic signs are not good. In fact, they’re going from bad to worse.

ALEC MACGILLIS: [voice-over] In 2009 came the hardest hit of all, from the company that was more identified with the city than any other – National Cash Register.

NEWSCASTER: …said it’s packing up and moving south.

PAUL LEONARD: The NCR Corporation was Dayton. It had been here forever. To all of us who lived in Dayton, we thought it was going to be here forever.

NEWSCASTER: Dayton’s only Fortune 500 company, NCR, is headed out and down south.

NEWSCASTER: Five hundred and ninety-eight employees will lose their jobs when the company pulls out of here in late September.

ALEC MACGILLIS: [voice-over] The company moved to the Atlanta suburbs, where it already had a large operation. The CEO said it had become increasingly hard to recruit people to live and work in Dayton

PAUL LEONARD: And Daytonians are mad. We’re still mad. That took a piece of our soul, and this community has not recovered yet from the loss of NCR. You still hear people talk about NCR leaving the community. It’s a scar.

ALEC MACGILLIS: [voice-over] It’s a story that’s been repeated in many small industrial cities all across the country.

RANA FOROOHAR: There’s a really fundamental change happening in the economy. If you think about where wealth lives, it basically lives in a couple of places. It lives in financial assets – so on Wall Street – or in intellectual property – so in Silicon Valley. It’s in a handful of people, a handful of companies and you’ve had no real growth in the underlying economy. You’ve had wage stagnation for 20 years. And so the bottom falls out. There’s, there’s nobody earning any money. There’s no one left to buy stuff and these economies collapse.

ARCHIVAL SOUND: We have hit double digits on the unemployment rate now.

ALEC MACGILLIS: [voice-over] By 2010, Dayton’s unemployment rate topped 12 percent.

ARCHIVAL SOUND: It is worse than economists have been expecting, and this is the highest since the early 1980s.

ALEC MACGILLIS: [voice-over] And while all this was happening in the early years of this decade, city officials began seeing the first signs of an even bigger disaster.

NEWSCASTER: Federal and local officers are involved in cracking down on the heroin problem that’s growing in Dayton.

ALEC MACGILLIS: [voice-over] Dayton was hardly the only city being hit with a heroin problem, but its grip was especially strong.

ARCHIVAL SOUND: It has us asking how big the heroin problem now is in the Miami Valley and what can be done to stop it.

ALEC MACGILLIS: [voice-over] The roots of the problem could be traced back years to the kind of work that had once made Dayton thrive: hard, physical jobs, repetitive motions, day after day.

NAN WHALEY: The opioid addiction issue happens places where people use their bodies to make a living. You have a guy that’s, you know, not feeling really well or a woman and my back really hurts, goes to see their doctor. Their doctor gives them what they perceive to be a non-addictive substance. And I think that’s where a lot of this came from.

NEWSCASTER: And one of the most serious crises facing people in this country…

CHRISTOPHER CROOM, M.D., Medical Director, Promise to Hope: The issue of opiate addiction in the Dayton area is unique. But this particular part of the country was targeted very heavily by phar-, pharmaceutical companies when drugs like OxyContin first came on the market.

ALEC MACGILLIS: [voice-over] By 2011, the state was reporting that opioid prescriptions had risen 1,000 percent in Ohio, and many users were getting hooked. Ashley Sturgill was one of them. She first took opiates for chronic back pain when she was working as a waitress.

ASHLEY STURGILL: I can remember exactly when I realized that I was an addict. I was prescribed OxyContin, me and my daughters’ father both, and I, my insurance was cut. So I didn’t have any, and I didn’t know. I got really, really, really sick. And I think it was my mom or my aunt, I called and was telling them how sick I was and they told me to lay down and they pretty much knew that I was addicted to them at that point.

JOSH HUNTER: She was eating, what, 30 a day?

ASHLEY STURGILL: Probably at least. Yeah, I have a very high tolerance.

JOSH HUNTER: And that would kill a lot of people.

ASHLEY STURGILL: And people think because I’m small that, you know, that’s not the case. But I was probably doing triple what other people were doing. And then everything just kind of went downhill from there.

NEWSCASTER: A doctor who FBI officials say ran a pill mill in Dayton proclaims his innocence.

ALEC MACGILLIS: [voice-over] Ashley says she was getting her pills from a doctor willing to write illegal prescriptions, a practice that law enforcement eventually cracked down on.

NEWSCASTER: …believe he wrote as many as 40 fake prescriptions per day.

ALEC MACGILLIS: [voice-over] But there was an unintended consequence.

PHIL PLUMMER, Sheriff, Montgomery County: You know, we took the pills away from the addicts, not knowing we had so many addicts. When you do that, you have people with addiction problems and now they go seek another illegal substance and that was heroin.

NEWSCASTER: Police were executing several search warrants in the Dayton neighborhood, all relating to heroin trafficking.

ALEC MACGILLIS: [voice-over] As drug cartels began moving heroin to Dayton, they were helped by a feature that had once been a boon to its manufacturing economy – the city’s location at the so-called crossroads of America.

PHIL PLUMMER: You have Interstate 75 coming straight from the southern borders. Then it hits Interstate 70, which crosses from New York to Chicago. So it’s very easy to distribute products across the United States from Dayton, Ohio.

ALEC MACGILLIS: [voice-over] So with the drugs flowing freely into a city that was already reeling from an economic collapse and suffering the despair that came with it, Dayton had a full-blown epidemic on its hands. By then, it had taken over Ashley’s life.

JOSH HUNTER: I knew she was on the pills and, and I thought she got clean. But actually, she would use the bathroom a lot and lock the door and turn the water on. One day I picked the lock on the bathroom door and opened it, and she had a needle stuck in her arm. That’s when I knew for sure.

ASHLEY STURGILL: Sorry. I’m emotional. I hate thinking of it.

JOSH HUNTER: I thought I could just throw her out and move on, but I couldn’t do that. And I love her. I knew we could do it, and we’re getting through now.


JOSH HUNTER: It was a lot of work, but I mean, we did it. She did it.

ASHLEY STURGILL: Sorry. I just hate…That’s a rough one for me. So…

ALEC MACGILLIS: [voice-over] Ashley was one of the lucky ones. She sought treatment for her addiction after discovering she was pregnant.

But across Dayton, as synthetic opioids like fentanyl had begun entering the market, addicts were dying by the hundreds.

NEWSCASTER: The state of Ohio has become ground zero for America’s overdose crisis, killing more people across the country than ever before.

911 OPERATOR: What’s the address of your emergency?

CALLER: My boyfriend has OD’d. It’s bad. Please hurry.

NEWSCASTER: The epicenter is in Ohio, where officials say they are on track for 10,000 overdose deaths this year. That is higher than the total for the entire nation in 1990.

ALEC MACGILLIS: [voice-over] Most of the victims end up here, in front of the county coroner, Dr. Kent Harshbarger.

KENT HARSHBARGER, M.D., Coroner, Montgomery County: She was 45 years old and she was found sort of in an abandoned house that’s used for drugs regularly. I need to get photographs. What I see is just the same tragedy, the same story, repeating itself over and over again in that addicted population. But it doesn’t exclude anyone. Every racial group, every socioeconomic group we see in this current crisis. All the internal organs are in the right spot. There’s a little bit of fluid in the chest. The lungs are a little hyperinflated. The cost is staggering to any one community. And the smaller the community, the harder it is to absorb that economic crisis that this is creating. There’s not enough resources to fix the bridges and the roads and then you throw in an opioid crisis and the, the problem becomes insurmountable. I think we’re done. The system is being overwhelmed. We have had to bring some of our equipment that we have already for mass fatality events here to the building. So it’s a refrigerated trailer. We have two of them; each one of them will hold 18 sets of remains, and we’ve had to bring them here from time to time because our coolers are full.

ALEC MACGILLIS: [voice-over] In just the first six months in 2017, he had seen more fatal overdoses in Montgomery County, which includes Dayton, than in the entire year before.

NEWSCASTER: Overdoses – they’re now the number one killer of people under the age of 50. More people die from that than from car accidents.

ALEC MACGILLIS: [voice-over] The number of fatalities has since declined, due in part to there being less fentanyl on the street. But the addiction problem is still raging. You can see the devastation at any of the support groups that meet virtually every day in the city. This one was called Families of Addicts.

LORI ERION, Founder, Families of Addicts: FOA is a non-profit that I started back in November 2013. I have 11 years of my own recovery from alcohol and other drugs currently, but at the time that I started this, when I found out that my daughter was using heroin, it was an animal of a different color for me. But what she did is she educated me more than anyone about what was going on with her.

ALEC MACGILLIS: [voice-over] The night we were there, addicts and their families took turns celebrating triumphs that may sound small, but were monumental victories on the road to recovery.

LORI ERION: There we go.

WOMAN: Here I come.

WOMAN: I’m taking one of these because today marks my 90 days of being sober.

MEETING ATTENDEES: Woo! Fantastic! [applause]

WOMAN: I’m going to take one of these because I just got out of prison. It’s a month on the 20th. I have a job, I’ve got a car, I’ve got a phone. I just made it through my first paycheck last night, so I’m super proud of myself. So… [applause]

WOMAN: This is for my son Justin. He’s going to be 10 months clean on the 17th and we couldn’t be prouder of him. [applause]

MAN: I guess I’m going to take one because I, I’m going to start to take care of myself.

WOMAN: It’s a big step. [applause]

ALEC MACGILLIS: [voice-over] If you spend enough time in Dayton, you see that the opioid epidemic spares nobody, not even newborns. At the city’s largest hospital, one out of every 10 babies in the neonatal ICU is here because they may be in withdrawal from opiates. There’s even a special program designed to take care of the overwhelming number of addicted mothers-to-be, run by Dr. Christopher Croom.

CHRISTOPHER CROOM, M.D., Medical Director, Promise to Hope: Prior to the beginning of this program, there was really nothing available in this community for that particular patient population. You have women of childbearing age in a stressed community where opiates are available and consequently, you’ve got opiate-addicted pregnant women. These women are judged horribly because they’re using drugs, number one, and they’re exposing their child. So seeking out help during pregnancy is a hard thing to do.

ALEC MACGILLIS: [voice-over] Ashley’s daughter Reagan arrived on New Year’s Day and spent the first week of her life being monitored for withdrawal.

ASHLEY STURGILL: I was a little scared of what was going to happen when she was born, how she was going to be. Yes. You’re being such a good girl. The fact that she could go through withdrawals, it breaks my heart. You know, you’re always… I’m, I’m going to get emotional. You’re going to have that guilt, you know, because you know you’re the one. You’re the addict, so you feel like you pushed this on your baby like… But you know, you’re… Like you feel horrible.

CHRISTOPHER CROOM, M.D.: Ashley’s exceptional for a couple of reasons. Number one, she is in recovery. She’s had a long history of addiction and several attempts at trying to get in recovery and this is the first time she’s been successful at it. You know, that, that’s a huge accomplishment.

ALEC MACGILLIS: [voice-over] In the end, Reagan had just mild symptoms of withdrawal. But all this medical attention can cost as much as 20 times what a regular birth does. It’s just one of the ways the opioid problem will be a burden on Dayton for years, if not generations to come.

NAN WHALEY, Mayor of Dayton: You know, what’s struggling for us is we’re the ones paying for it. The taxpayers are paying for the burden. They’re paying for the police services, the fire services. Police and fire, they did 3,700 runs in the city of Dayton. We’ve exchanged 125,000 needles across the county last year, a 60 percent increase. The judicial system has been clogged by folks that come through it. And multiply that by 282 people that died last year. That doesn’t count the number of people that are addicted. This is an issue that far succeeds [exceeds] just an economic issue.

ALEC MACGILLIS, Senior Reporter, ProPublica: [voice-over] As Dayton tries to pick itself up and revitalize its economy, it finds itself in a situation that’s become common in cities like this. After all the overdose deaths, the job losses, and people just leaving for opportunities elsewhere, the population in Dayton is barely more than half of what it was at its peak 50 years ago. And even though the number of jobs has returned to what it was before the recession, employers are finding there aren’t enough qualified workers to fill them.

ALEC MACGILLIS: [on camera] I mean, Dayton, you come there and you know that it was once this city that was this big center of innovation And you come there now, and what, what hits you is just the emptiness of it. You have this downtown with these big, beautiful buildings and these gorgeous, 15-, 20-story bank buildings and old hotels and these streets that are so wide, like boulevards kind of, and they’re just almost completely empty. If you’re trying to build yourself, your numbers back up, quite simply, from a point where you’ve lost 50 percent of your population in 50 years, one obvious possible source for that is going to be immigrants and refugees.

NEWSCASTER: Last year, the city of Dayton declared itself as immigrant-friendly.

ALEC MACGILLIS: [voice-over] So while the Trump administration has taken a hard line on immigration, in Dayton some newcomers have been part of the efforts to revitalize. The Ahiska Turks are ethnic Turks from the former Soviet Union who came to the U.S. as refugees over a decade ago. Roughly 2,000 of them settled in Dayton, including Islom Shakhbandarov.

ISLOM SHAKHBANDAROV, Co-owner, American Power LLC: Back in 2007, when I moved to Dayton, people was running away from this community. Streets was dirty. Basically, part of Dayton was dying. But I discover that life in U.S could be different if we move here due to the cost of living here and affordability of real estate.

ALEC MACGILLIS: [on camera] So when you came here, you saw the city in a completely different way.

ISLOM SHAKHBANDAROV: Yes, I see the opportunity because it was almost empty and there was a room to fill it. After six months, I was already a Daytonian.

ALEC MACGILLIS: [voice-over] He and some other Ahiska Turks went into business together. Starting with a single used truck, they built a transportation company called American Power, which now has over 30 employees.

ISLOM SHAKHBANDAROV: This place was basically non-functioning for five or six years before we get it. There was a minor warehouse, small, but that was pretty much it.

SHIMON DOTAN, Producer: You got this for a good price?

ADIL BAGUIROV, Co-owner, American Power LLC: Yes, we did. We always do.

NEWSCASTER: It’s now been a year since the immigrant-friendly plan was adopted here.

NAN WHALEY: The Ahiska Turks have served, like, as school board members, community leaders. They have taken an old recreation site that actually was closed and created it as their own community site. They have started businesses in the community and have taken over entire neighborhoods of the city of Dayton and made them vibrant communities once again.

ISLOM SHAKHBANDAROV: These houses, these houses was abandoned. Majority of people who live… Like these two houses, they both was abandoned. It was abandoned neighborhood. We bought houses for five, $6,000. There’s houses that I bought for $2,000. You know, it’s nobody wants. It’s the burden in the city. And my community see that as an opportunity.

ALEC MACGILLIS: [voice-over] And like so many successful Daytonians before him, Islom has already moved out of the city center and into the suburbs.

ISLOM SHAKHBANDAROV: It’s the first time I ever built a house from the ground, and I, I, I believe the other house is gonna be much better. We’re gonna build many, many, many, many, many more.

ALEC MACGILLIS: [voice-over] The Ahiska Turks are not the only foreigners who have found opportunity here.

ARCHIVAL SOUND: The language of economic development in the American heartland…

ALEC MACGILLIS: Cho Tak Wong, a self-made Chinese billionaire, runs one of the largest auto glass companies in the world. His newest and biggest factory is in Dayton, making glass for the American market. He and his translator agreed to a rare interview at his office here.

ALEC MACGILLIS: [on camera] Why was it necessary for a Chinese company to come in to build up our supply chain for auto glass?

CHO TAK WONG, CEO, Fuyao Glass Industry Group: [subtitles] It’s because the U.S. deindustrialization policy has wiped out my American competitors. Almost all American-owned companies in our industry are gone. There was no way for them to survive.

NEWSCASTER: The factory floor is bustling again at this manufacturing plant in Moraine, Ohio. A billionaire has…

ALEC MACGILLIS: [voice-over] The location of his new factory couldn’t have been more symbolic – the empty GM plant, now Fuyao Glass America.

JEFF HOAGLAND, President, Dayton Development Coalition: It’s the largest Chinese investment in Ohio’s history, and in the top ten Chinese investment in the United States. A company that invests over $600 million into your community, into a project, that employs over 2,300 people within three, three and a half years, that’s a pretty big deal.

ALEC MACGILLIS: [voice-over] Among the new employees were a lot of former GM workers.

RODNEY BRICKEY, Assistant Manager, Fuyao: I was actually a little bit excited that at least somebody was trying to bring some jobs back in to the area. You know, that’s why I went ahead and applied early. I was actually in the third group hired into the plant. Both GM and Fuyao, I actually started in the same part of the plant, in the same corner.

ALEC MACGILLIS: [voice-over] But the starting wages were different than what he was used to at GM.

RODNEY BRICKEY: You started out at $12 an hour. After 90 days, you got a raise up to 12.84.

ALEC MACGILLIS: [voice-over] The starting pay has since gone up to $15 an hour, but that’s still barely enough to keep a family above the poverty level.

ALEC MACGILLIS: [on camera] Will American workers need to get used to lower manufacturing pay than they had back 10, 20, 30 years ago?

CHO TAK WONG: [subtitles] When you say low wages, it all depends on who you compare with. Wall Street? Or workers in Mexico? Or China or Japan? American workers earn double what Japanese workers. And six as much as Chinese workers. And three times as much as a Mexican salary. But if you compare with Wall Street, the wage here is not even a fraction of Wall Street. Former GM workers are very grateful to us because they lost their jobs after the closure. They are very happy that we came and offered them jobs.

PROFESSOR JACOB S. HACKER, Yale University: Manufacturing is not what it used to be. We used to think of manufacturing as these good, stable, middle-class jobs. But because of the decimation of the industrial heartland, essentially now those who are building manufacturing companies in former industrial areas are doing so on a totally new model, a model that’s built on much, much lower pay and much weaker benefits and job security.

ALEC MACGILLIS: [voice-over] In December, Fuyao’s employees gathered on the factory floor for the company’s holiday dinner. It was a more festive occasion than 2008, when GM shuttered this factory two days before Christmas. Down by the river that runs through the heart of city, the scene is much more somber. St. Vincent de Paul’s is one of the dozens of charitable food pantries serving the Dayton area.

MAN IN FOOD PANTRY LINE: I got 49, a lot lower than I thought it was going to be. Usually this far down, I’m about 70 or 80.

ALEC MACGILLIS: [voice-over] Last year, they gave out free groceries more than 31,000 times.

MAN IN FOOD PANTRY LINE: I’m getting desperate. The whole crowd running out of…

MAN COLLECTING NUMBERS: Yeah, you never know what’s going here, 49.

WOMAN ANNOUNCING ON MICROPHONE: Number 39, your food is ready. Please meet your shopper at the door. Number 39.

SUNNIE LAIN, Director of Outreach, St. Vincent de Paul: The majority of people who come to our pantry work. We actually have a significant number that come here, they’ll give me a ticket, and they’ll say, “I have to be at work at 10:00” or “I have to be work at 9:30. Please make sure I get my food.” People who are coming are people who will probably never recover from the Great Recession. We have families watering down soup and moms trying to figure out how to make a box of mac and cheese last for two days.

MOM IN FOOD PANTRY: Are you tired? You’re being really good.

SUNNIE LAIN: We visit homes with no food in the cupboard at all. There is nothing.

WOMAN ANNOUNCING ON MICROPHONE: Number 46, your food is ready. Will you meet your shopper at the door?

SUNNIE LAIN: I cannot overstate the change that happened in 2008, and from there on. It was a game changer for us. People who have never needed help came to us and they continue to. And we still see the, the impact from that event. Jobs have come back, but it’s not the kind of jobs we lost. People who were making a good middle-class income are now making $10 or $12 an hour. People lost half of their pension. People did everything they were supposed to do and it didn’t work.

KRYS DAVIDSON, Community Enterprises, St. Vincent de Paul: You’re bagging up here today?

MAN: Yes, ma’am.

KRYS DAVIDSON: Okay. You can head this way. All I’ve seen is the need increase, increase and increase. I mean we used to serve 150 families. We’re now serving 350 and up. All I see is the need going up and up and up.

WOMAN ANNOUNCING ON MICROPHONE: Three fifty, your food is ready. Please meet your shopper at the door.

FOOD PANTRY STAFF: There you go.



WOMAN WITH CHILDREN: Wow! Okay. Hold on.

KRYS DAVIDSON: A lot of the jobs here in Dayton are minimum wage, no benefits. So by the time they provide all of that to their family, groceries are last on the list and so they need to come here.

CHILD: Cupcake!

WOMAN WITH CHILDREN: Yeah. Look! They have cupcakes right here. Look at that!

SUNNIE LAIN: I don’t like to see kids coming here with their parents. It just, it really bothers me. It bothers me to see children here because I know they’ll be here 20 years from now with their kids.

WOMAN ANNOUNCING ON MICROPHONE: Three thirty-six, your food is ready. Please meet your shopper at the door.

ALEC MACGILLIS: [voice-over] Taylor Hardy visits food pantries like this a couple of times a month. She works full time but says that even with $230 in food stamps every month, she needs charities like St. Vincent’s to help feed her family.

TAYLOR HARDY: Will you give me the red sauce?

ALEC MACGILLIS: [voice-over] Taylor was working as a nursing assistant. Her boyfriend Andrew was weatherizing houses. Both earned a bit more than $13 an hour, but neither had any savings.

TAYLOR HARDY: We make $2,300 a month and we pay 300 for each car so that’s 600.

ANDREW SIMPSON: We’ve got rent, which is about $675.

TAYLOR HARDY: So there’s $1,300. Sit right there. Mommy’s almost done. Here, here, I’m going to make you a taco. Our gas and electric, that’s 300, easy. And then we pay for diapers. We can’t forget that. For day care and home. That’s usually about $70 every two weeks. Go sit. Go take it and sit.

ANDREW SIMPSON: For both of us, roughly $40 a week for gas for the cars.

TAYLOR HARDY: The cost of living is outrageous. I think I have $5 in my bank account right now. It’s sad. It’s really sad that I work all these hours and I miss the time with my kids and my family to make nothing.

ANDREW SIMPSON: We barely just making it.

TAYLOR HARDY: Come on. Let’s go.

CHERISH CRONMILLER, CEO, Miami Valley Community Action Partnership: The poverty level is set by the federal government. And the poverty level for a family of four is $24,300. And when we stop and think about a family of four for $24,300, to that be at the poverty level, that’s nowhere near what somebody would need to actually survive in today’s dollars.

PROFESSOR JACOB S. HACKER: Working-class wages have essentially been flat or declining for three decades, and we know that upward mobility, the chance that someone will move up the income ladder, has stagnated. You know, what makes a society move forward confidently into the future is this sense of personal optimism: The idea that one’s hard work is rewarded; that one has the ability, if they seize the opportunities before them, to rise economically and socially; and to look to the future with optimism rather than fear.

ALEC MACGILLIS: [voice-over] But there is very little sense of optimism among the lunchtime crowd at the House of Bread soup kitchen. Across Dayton wages have dropped an estimated 19 percent from what they were before the recession. And the work is very different too.

MAN: Right now I’m working El Greco’s up on Salem Avenue. Restaurant work and that’s really out of my league there. I’m usually a diesel mechanic by trade. $8.50 an hour job is not very much money, you know. So I got rent I gotta pay, $100 a week.

MAN: I work in a plastic factory. We process, recycle plastics and put it into a form like little, black pellets that can be molded into useful objects by others. So we sell the pellets to other companies, who in turn use these pellets to mold objects.

WOMAN: We come here to eat so the kids can eat at home, you know, because, you know, we’re, we’re struggling.

MAN: It is what it is. You know, you gotta make, you gotta make do with what you got, so really gotta have faith in yourself.

PAUL LEONARD, Mayor of Dayton, 1982-1986: I think our unemployment rate is better than it has been in a long time. The issue in Dayton is not how many people are employed or how many people are unemployed. It’s what kind of jobs do they have?

ALEC MACGILLIS, Senior Reporter, ProPublica: [on camera] One of the other things you realize when you talk to people at these soup kitchens and food banks, people with the jobs, is just how humble the work has become in Dayton. Now you have all these jobs that are no longer about inventing new things, but instead about logistics of handling and packaging and moving things that are made elsewhere.

ALEC MACGILLIS: [voice-over] Take Dayton Corrugated, who’ve been making boxes here for 40 years. Last year they spent nearly a million dollars on new equipment just to keep up with demand. But most of that new demand is from companies making products outside Dayton.

GARY REIGELSPERGER, Owner, Dayton Corrugated Packaging: We are making more boxes now than we ever have. When the recession came along, everybody just kind of slowed down. We just kind of hunkered down and tried to make profit to stay in business ourselves. As the economy’s come back, now we can expand.

ALEC MACGILLIS: [voice-over] The starting pay here is $13 an hour and, like other employers, he’s struggled to fill jobs.

GARY REIGELSPERGER: People are a big problem now. You know, we’ve got a lot of really good people here and it’s hard to get more. The drug problem is a real issue for companies like us because it’s really hard to find good, qualified workers.

ALEC MACGILLIS: [voice-over] As you go around Dayton today, you see this tension between the economic and social damage and the determination to rebuild. There are small businesses cropping up in old industrial buildings. A new black chamber of commerce is meeting in a downtown coffee shop. And young inventors are designing their prototypes, like the Wright Brothers did here over a century ago.

JO’EL THOMAS-JONES, Co-founder, Neighborhoods Over Politics: Dayton is not unique in the problems that we are facing. That is common among urban communities all across United States. But what is unique is that Dayton is still small enough to right some of these wrongs. We’re not a New York City. We’re not a Chicago. We’re Dayton, Ohio. So this is the community campaign. That’s where we are today. This is how you change communities.

ALEC MACGILLIS: [voice-over] In a nearly-empty corner of the city earlier this summer, a group of residents were trying fix one of their most urgent problems – the lack of grocery stores in West Dayton – by raising money for a community-owned co-op.

AMAHA SELLASSIE, President, Gem City Market: Greetings. How’s everybody doing? Good? I know you’re hot. There’s some water over here if anybody needs some water before we take out. There was about five or six of us that had the wild idea where: Well, if you’re living in a food desert, what if you open up a grocery store? Nobody ever done it before and everybody kind of looked, looked at us like we’re, like we’re crazy. We had so many people join in the last two months or last month, that were at 1,500 members right now, you know. And so it’s like we got a lot of momentum. Everywhere I go people are asking and talking about the market.

ALEC MACGILLIS: [voice-over] The market will be called “Gem City,” an old nickname from Dayton’s better days.

AMAHA SELLASSIE: To me, it’s about like how to get resources that are leaving the community to be reinvested inside of our community, and the notion that we’re not waiting for others to do it, but we’re doing it ourselves.

ALEC MACGILLIS: [on camera] This question of what you do about places like Dayton, places whose glory days have passed, is a really tricky one for this country because we’ve really never been good about figuring out what to do with the places that are no longer on the cutting edge; the places that are no longer the hubs of innovation. We’ve never done that. We’ve never felt the need to do that. We just move on to the next thing, move on to the next place.

ALEC MACGILLIS: [voice-over] But the gaps between places have gotten so big these days that the disparities at either end of the spectrum are increasingly affecting us all. So we can’t just move on from these cities and expect that they’ll fix themselves. Their fates are wrapped up in big decisions being made about the nation’s economy and politics. These cities are a landscape of opportunity, or at least they should be, in a country that likes to pride itself on picking up and starting over.

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