By Dan Clendenin

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Left Behind America (2018)

If you don’t have time to read one of the numerous books about how many towns in America have been hollowed out in the last forty years — see, for example, my book reviews of The Left Behind, The White Working Class, Deeply Divided, or Hillbilly Elegy, this one-hour documentary by Frontline and ProPublica is a good place to start. The film explores Dayton, Ohio as a sort of case study. At its peak in 1960, Dayton had a population of 262,000, and a proud history that included the Wright Brothers, the Fortune 500 company NCR that had been there since 1884, and a robust manufacturing industry with the likes of General Motors. Today Dayton’s population is 140,000. Both GM and NCR are long gone, with jobs outsourced to Mexico and China. The opioid epidemic (including heroin) is so bad that sometimes the coroner’s office doesn’t have enough refrigerated spaces for all the bodies. West Dayton is a food desert with no grocery store. There are blocks upon blocks of abandoned houses with broken windows and graffiti. The poverty rate is a staggering 35%. The movie interviews all sorts of stakeholders, like the current and past mayors, volunteers at a soup kitchen and a food bank, finance experts, a local attorney, and, most importantly, local families that explain what it is like to try to survive. “Dayton is not unique in the problems that we are facing. That is common among urban communities all across the United States,” says Jo’el Jones, a co-founder of Neighborhoods Over Politics. “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.”

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