Over at Political Animal, David Atkins has reported on another recent, depressing study of the economic status of American families; as he notes,
Economic inequality in the United States has been receiving a lot of attention. But it’s not merely an issue of the rich getting richer. The typical American household has been getting poorer, too.
Atkins discussed the dimensions and effects of the steady escalation of this division between rich and poor Americans, and his analysis is definitely worth a read. But I had just completed a 15-hour drive back from the beach when I read his post, and it made me think about a companion question, one I often ponder when–as on this drive through back roads, trying to avoid congestion–the landscape shows me a kind of American life that I can’t imagine living.
That certainly isn’t a moral judgment; it isn’t even an aesthetic one. It’s simply recognition that the lives of folks who inhabit the very small towns, or who live in the middle of broad fields miles from a grocery store or corner bar, live a life unfathomably different from my downtown urban neighborhood existence. I can’t help wondering how my opinions on matters of politics and policy would differ if I lived in a small house or converted double-wide on a lightly-traveled county road. Who would I talk to? Would we even discuss political issues beyond the most local concerns? Where would I get my civic information? Would I think of myself as a “have not,” or would I be satisfied with my situation? Would isolation bother me? What would I read, and why would I choose to read it?
Surely so incredibly different a life would have created an incredibly different me.
Us “city folks” who have trouble understanding why people don’t see things that seem so glaringly obvious to us need to take a drive across the back roads of rural America from time to time. Despite the country’s increasing urbanization, a lot of our fellow-citizens still live there.
I don’t really know where their “there” is. But then, I imagine they don’t relate very well to my life experience, either. There’s no right or wrong here–just difference.
The mutual incomprehension probably explains a lot, but it makes communication pretty tough.