The unemployment rate here in Jefferson County is around 4 percent, just about the same as it is nationwide, and among those employed residents, about a quarter work in manufacturing. The county is mostly rural, and overwhelmingly white. In Madison, which is marked by three riverfront smokestacks that can be seen for miles, the median household income in 2016 was about $51,500, and two of every 10 children under 18 lived in poverty.I see this as the question of our age: why so much hopelessness among young people, even in towns with jobs? Why such a pervasive sense that things are out of whack, that the world is in decline? Why are we so fearful? Why is crazed alarmism such an effective political strategy?
The tourists who travel here see Madison’s antique shops and frequent its art, music, food and boat-racing festivals. But beneath all that are the crises that threaten to drag this town under: suicide, depression, child neglect, abuse and addiction to drugs.
I go back and forth in my own mind, from "things aren't really any worse than they have always been" to "something vital is missing from our society."
Is it too much news, all of it focusing on the bad? Is it an evolutionary misalignment between the hungry village life we evolved for and the mass society and material abundance we have ended up in?
Macur's story focuses on a high school football coach who lost his own brother and is now determined to help kids stay alive. It's easy to be cynical, but if high school sports rivalries won't give small town folks the excitement and sense of community they need, what will?
I don't have any answers, other than a sense that our public culture of outrage, blame, anger, partisan hate, and general woefulness is making things worse.