Life in the rustbelt

Cover of Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by JD VanceHillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis
By JD Vance
Published by Harper Collins, £14.99
(Buy at Amazon)

Talk about poverty in the US and you’ll think of inner-city Detroit or Baltimore. But over the past decade, the areas that have done the worst are in the “rustbelt”: former industrial towns in states such as Ohio and West Virginia, where jobs are scarce and life expectancy has been declining.

In Hillbilly Elegy, JD Vance tries to explain these areas’ decline, by recounting his journey from a single-parent family to Yale, via the Marine Corps. The result is a well-written book powerfully underlining the way that changes in family structure have worsened the problems caused by increasing inequality and industrial decline.

It’s also highly topical, since it was Hillary Clinton’s failure to win over voters in these areas that helped propel Donald Trump to the presidency. The author’s evident distaste for government intervention provides hints as to why many voters in the Midwest reject Democrat-backed policies that should logically benefit them, although it does little to explain what was so different about Trump that persuaded voters to back him.