These posts represent reflections on the implications of the economic crash for the Church based on The Atlantic March 2009 feature, “How the Crash Will Reshape America” by Richard Florida, author of The Rise of the Creative Class.
Now we begin to move into some different territory than what we’ve been exploring. What of the regions that are “left behind” with the population shift toward the cities of the mega-regions mentioned earlier?
Before moving into this section, Mr. Florida declares: “Economic crises tend to reinforce and accelerate the underlying, long-term trends within an economy. …In this case, the economy is shifting away from manufacturing and toward idea-driven creative industries—and that, too, favors America’s talent-rich, fast-metabolizing places.” (p. 51)
What about the other places?
“Sadly and unjustly, the place likely to suffer most from the crash–especially in the long run–are the ones least associated with high finance.” (p. 51)
Florida is thinking primarily of the “Rust Belt” areas, including places like Buffalo, Cleveland, and Detroit as places that “will have a hard time recovering” (p. 51). A couple of statistics may tell the tale:
- “Since 1950, the manufacturing sector has shrunk from 32% of nonfarm employment to just 10%.”
- “In November, nationwide unemployment in manufacturing and production occupations was already 9.4%” compared with “the professional occupations, where it was just a little over 3%.”
A challenge, then, that faces this area of the country is population decline. How does a city reinvent itself in ways that either position it for new growth or as yet unpredictable population retention to offset the decline it will face, or manage itself through the decline period in ways that avoid the “ghost town” scenario?
For the church, the missional questions, What does incarnation look like here? and What does practicing the kingdom look like here? are difficult to answer. But the gospel came first those on the margins of society, those in need of food, water, shelter, clothing, justice, and dignity (Matthew 25). It seems clear that the decline of regions of the country tied closely to the manufacturing industry will produce plenty of opportunity to be the church, whether in those locations or in more prosperous locations to which people move. It will be important to follow Wesley’s approach of not just ministering to “them” but of ministering “them” into the fellowship and consequently receiving and equiping them to share their ministry as “they” become “us.”
One thought on “a new economic geography and the church 5”
I cannot speak for any major rust belt city, but I can reflect on a small western city. Our major employers are now government, health care and education. Agriculture is a minor employer but a significant creator of local wealth. There are more local manufacturing jobs than ever, but they are located in small shops and businesses producing highly customized products. The big canneries of yesteryear are gone forever.