By Mark Z. Barabak, Los Angeles Times
MINGO JUNCTION, Ohio â€” Hope has been absent for so long from Appalachian Ohio that many people have forgotten what it’s like.
Idle steel mills run the length of several city blocks, empty and rusting on the thickly wooded banks of the Ohio River, like hulking tombstones for a past that died and the promise that died along with it.
What optimism exists has little, if any, connection to the presidential campaign, which for all its import feels distant and somehow beside the point.
James Rogers worked happily in the mills for 23 years, until he was laid off in 2009. He is studying to be a nurse; a job, true, but one he doesn’t really want. Still, at 44 he has a mortgage, a home deep underwater and two kids to put through college. He figures healthcare offers his best shot at a reliable paycheck.
With the coal mines giving out and the steel business decimated â€” about 1,500 people work in the few surviving mills, compared with 30,000 at the peak â€” the medical industry is by far the largest employer in Jefferson County. Young people here tend to escape if they can, leaving the frail and aging behind.
To Rogers, it doesn’t matter who wins the White House in November. He’s a Democrat and supports President Obama but doubts much would change in a second term.
“We elect this guy and all they do is bicker,” said Rogers, still big and burly from his days manning a blast furnace. “Nobody will do this, nobody will do that, it’s all partisan [bull] and what did we do? We lost four years.”
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