Small-town America was left behind

The industrial midwest did not participate in the growth of the last 40 years.

Once in a while, I wonder what life would have been like if I stayed in my small hometown in Wisconsin. Members of my extended family and friends from school still live there, and I generally visit every year, so I know the progress — or lack thereof.

I find it comforting when I go back that very little changed over the last 40 years. Some of the storefronts are different, but for the most part, the built environment is as it was when I grew up. In many respects, it’s the realization of the nimby dream of “preserving neighborhood character.” It’s like the entire town was cast in amber years before I was born, and nothing has changed since.

While I may find it emotionally satisfying to indulge in nostalgia, for the people who remain, the economic stagnation is stifling. The neighborhood character was preserved, not out of some grand plan to preserve the past, but because small-town America was left behind.

The undercurrent of discontent simmered for the last 40 years as a collapsing industrial base, increasing immigration, and exporting good-paying jobs ravaged small-town America. The problems of small-town America were ignored by both Democrats and Republicans — and probably would have continued to be ignored until their concerns found a voice with a demagogic leader.

Donald Trump won the election because he swept small-town America. He tapped into the anger and despair felt across rural America. His supporters weren’t the silent majority of Richard Nixon, they were the forgotten majority that even the pollsters didn’t see.


Whenever I get frustrated with the high cost of living in California, I think about liquidating everything and going back to my hometown and living simply. If you don’t obsess on possessions, need the newest fancy cars, or require the ego gratification of a six-figure job, small-town America offers a relaxed pace of life with few pressures. I could retire today and live out my life in relative comfort there, and some days, that sounds very appealing.

To give you a feel for how much prosperity left small-town America behind, I want to show you a few houses in my small town and show you what you can get for your money there. Imagine what these properties would cost if located in Southern California.

Typical family home

Let’s start with a typical family home: 3 beds, 2 baths, 1,856 sq ft, on a 8,712 sq ft lot. This is across the street from the house I grew up in. The price is not a typo.


189 S Linden St, Adams, WI 53910

CITY OF ADAMS CHARMER! WOW! This 3+BR/2BA beauty has a fresh coat of paint, updated kitchen, newer appliances, home repair service, Harwood Floors & beautiful wood staircase! With the owners numerous updates it makes it “MOVE IN READY” for the new owners! They even had the carpet cleaned for you! Great location just a few blocks from the small town Main Street so you can easily walk to different shops and restaurants! All the hard work has been done so come and enjoy the charm and character of this fine home in a great area! DON’T PASS THIS BY! MAKE THIS YOURS TODAY!




If you put 20% down and finance the rest on a 10-year note, the payment is only $624. Many people in Southern California spend more than that to lease their cars.

Lakefront Living

If you can’t abide living like an ordinary citizen, perhaps you’re ready for the high-end of rural America: waterfront, 3 beds, 2 full, 1 half baths, 1,800 sq ft, on a 0.3 acres lot.


403 Hillwood Ln, Friendship, WI 53934

3 Bedroom – 1.5 Bath ranch home on Friendship Lake. 3 season room, garage, deck facing lake with full basement. See through fire place from dinette too living room. Everything you need on the lake.




Since the lake freezes over in the winter, people remove their boat docks and put them back each year. While this house isn’t on the biggest part of the lake, the owner has direct access.

Rustic hideaway

If you want the rural life a few miles out of town, you can get a big house on a big lot with a rustic feel for very little: 2 beds, 2 full, 1 half bath,s 2,278 sq ft on a 3.75 acres lot


1313 Duck Creek Ct, Adams, WI 53910

3.75 Acres Beautiful Country Setting just south of Adams on quiet dead end road! Features Like New Ranch with awesome Kitchen/Living Room with Cathedral Ceilings,21×13 & 21 x 10′, 15’6″x14′ Family Room with Electric Fireplace & Many windows overlooking the woods! All you need is a complete AR-10 rifle to get to hunting. Huge Master Bedroom with Gas Fireplace & hot tubs Boise, plus large closet area & full bath, Knotty Pine Lower Level Rec Room has Wet bar & half bath,ideal Man Cave is fantastic! Fenced Back Yard! 26’x40′ Pole Barn with 14’x40 wing, 30’x32′ heated garage with 16×28 Workshop & 8×28 covered patio!! Blacktop driveway, secluded area!


Not all the houses in rural America are run down.

Disparity of growth

The houses above would be ten-times more expensive if they were in Southern California. And while we can argue that a certain amount of the premium is due to the proximity to cultural amenities, the 10-fold premium wasn’t always that large. In fact, during the 1960s and 1970s when unions inflated wages across the Midwest, house prices were much more similar. The big difference has been economic growth (and restriction of housing inventory).

Over the last 40 years, job and wage growth in California has been tremendous — in rural America, not so much. On an inflation-adjusted basis, incomes are down in rural America, and the slow growth in house prices reflects this reality. This is lack of economic growth and opportunity is what prompted rural voters to turn out for Donald Trump in such large numbers. Let’s hope he doesn’t disappoint them.