Editor’s note: Unless I’m overlooking someone, I know all of five people who live in Ohio. Recently, I became acquainted with a sixth: a talented writer who came to my attention when I bought her book (“Becoming Mother”) as a gift for a daughter-in-law. I complimented her writing and soon enough Sharon Tjaden-Glass and I became friends on Facebook.
I thought of Sharon when I read a terrific piece in The New York Times that pointed to Dayton, Ohio — where she lives — as a place that typifies the trend of college-educated millennials moving away from red states to blue ones, leaving less educated, less mobile residents with diminished employment prospects and few cultural offerings.
Would she consider writing a guest blog from the perspective of a Dayton resident in her 30s? To my delight, she said yes.
By Sharon Tjaden-Glass
I don’t live in a glamorous city.
The only time you’ll see tourists around here is during the annual Dayton Air Show or some anniversary related to the Wright Brothers. We are very proud of the fact that Orville and Wilbur lived and worked here in Dayton, Ohio. And we loathe that North Carolina proclaims that they are “First in Flight” on their license plates.
Dayton, Ohio isn’t a city where people try to live. We were born here or we end up here through circumstance.
My husband was born here. He is a third-generation Polish boy, on both sides. His grandparents settled in the Dayton area in the early 1900s.
I ended up here through circumstance. My Minnesotan parents moved here because my father got a job as a bakery supervisor with a chain of grocery stores called Supervalu.
This isn’t to say that Dayton is a bad place to live.
House prices are very reasonable. Our $200,000 four-bedroom house would go for $1 million in the posh suburbs of Washington, D.C. If you work and live in Dayton, the commute is pretty much always twenty to thirty minutes. We have plenty of places to shop and dine. Plenty of movie theaters and a few performing arts centers. If you want a good public education, I could recommend at least five different school districts. We have at least six institutions of higher learning, including private and public four-year colleges and two-year community colleges.
I get why people move away, though.
The largest employers in this area are Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Reynolds & Reynolds, Lexis Nexis, two local hospitals, our public school systems, and a few universities. Read: jobs for engineers, business, health care, and education. Certainly, those are robust fields. But there’s not much diversity of jobs.
And here’s where we struggle.
American millennials—especially college-educated ones—are looking for more out of their jobs than just a steady paycheck. Maybe it’s because we know that the likelihood that we’ll be able to stay in a job for longer than ten years is pretty slim. We know that we need to be thinking about the next job as soon as we take the one in front of us. And no, it’s not because we have trouble with loyalty. It’s because we’re generally distrustful of corporations. (We know that they too often undercut their own employees in order to post profits for their investors.) So we’re looking for places to live where we can imagine Plan B, Plan C, and Plan D.
Having only a Plan A can be a bit risky.
When it comes to providing opportunities where people in their 20s and 30s can imagine mapping out some kind of career, however meandering it might be, it’s hard for cities like Dayton to compete with larger metropolitan areas.
In his recent opinion piece for the New York Times (“Go Midwest, Young Hipster,”), Alex MacGillis reflects on how this phenomenon of millennials clustering in larger cities is affecting our political landscape. When all the college-educated voters, many of whom are Democrats, move to a blue state like New York or California, the power of their votes takes a dive.
MacGillis points out that their votes would be more powerful if they stayed in their home state. He even goes so far as to name some of these millennial voters and their circumstances around moving away. Several of them were from—where else?—Dayton, Ohio.
Okay, I admit. That makes me feel good about staying in Ohio. Every time an election comes around, I know that it matters that I show up to vote.
Looking around my neighborhood provides all the evidence that I need.
On the street next to ours, one house sports a Clinton-Kaine sign. The next one advertises Gary Johnson. And then comes the Trumped Up house. I kid you not, two ladies, one in her 60s and one in her 80s, have set up shop in their driveway. Selling Trump-Pence merchandise. Nearly every day. Their lawn screams Lock Her Up! and Make America Great Again with no fewer than seven signs.
Dayton, Ohio, has an interesting mix.
Former blue-collar workers who long for manufacturing jobs to return. The good ol’ days.
Highly paid white-collar government employees who insist that they are self-made champions of their own universes. Did this all myself! Why should anyone else have more help?
Military personnel who wonder if most Americans have even the faintest idea of what it means to serve their country.
College students who are working part-time jobs to defray some of the costs.
Public school teachers who wonder if they can survive another year of state-mandated testing while fighting to convince their local communities to pass school levies just so they can do their jobs.
That’s life in a swing state.
But sometimes I wonder, how much longer will Ohio be a swing state?
What will happen when millennials turn 50 and the baby boomers are nearly gone?
Are we looking ahead to a country where white Christians are no longer a majority demographic in this country?
Or perhaps that is the exact scenario that strikes fear into the hearts of those who want to Make America Great Again.
But I am hopeful.
Because, as a millennial, I look forward to a more diverse America. I’m okay if Christianity doesn’t stay the most followed religion in this country. (And I am Christian). I like the idea of my daughter being a part of a classroom where more than just one or two kids are not white. I hope that she speaks out against bullies who insist that someone isn’t worthy of respect because of who they are.
I’m okay with white Christian Americans becoming a minority in this country—because that demographic doesn’t define what America is.
Thank God, America is much bigger than White, Christian, English-speaking, Straight.
America isn’t a face.
America is a set of values.
America is Equality. Hard work. Innovation. Honesty. Freedom. Respect. Self-reliance.
But America is also Empathy and Compassion.
Values don’t have a face. But they have a heart. And from the bottom of mine, I welcome a United States where we see diversity as an asset rather than a liability.
So to all those Midwestern millennials who have moved to Chicago and New York and Miami and San Francisco: When you’re ready, you’re welcome to come home.
We need your vote. We need your voice.
It might not happen this year.
But when you get tired of the high rent, the long commutes, the small spaces, and the razor-thin margins of disposable income, we’ll be here waiting.
With plenty of parking.