Graduate student Adam Jadhav publishes Was it rural populism? Returning to the country, “catching up,” and trying to understand the trump vote in Elsevier
Was it rural populism? Returning to the country, “catching up,” and trying to understand the trump vote
In May 1982, news broke that heavy equipment manufacturer Caterpillar would lay off another 8000 workers, mostly in Illinois (UPI, 1982). The company blamed a global recession and high interest rates for the job cuts that, by then, had totaled 17,500.
The spate of layoffs in the ‘80s reverberated through rural central Illinois communities, where wages drawn from blue- and white-collar industrial jobs had served as a pillar of economic stability propping up agricultural incomes. The loss of these solid paychecks only contributed to the sense of collective devastation in a region already in the grips of a national farm crisis.
“I was laid off in 1982. That was a big kick in the head,” said a former Caterpillar employee during an interview in June 2017. “A lot of suicides, a lot of divorces … It's like being castrated to be laid off like that.”
He, his wife and I were into the second pot of coffee of a three-hour discussion around their dining table in Henry, a small farm town in central Illinois. While a Midwestern rainstorm poured down outside, our conversation dwelled on everyday life in Henry and the region. We went over schools, churches, families that everyone knows, shops that everyone patronizes and so on. Often as not, such conversation would linger on a business, institution or family that had packed up, sometimes to be replaced, sometimes only to leave behind another empty storefront or homestead. This became something of a game: What else has changed? What else isn't there anymore?