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Embracing the Rust Belt: Why Moving to Middle America is Good for Families

Updated on August 1, 2012

Leaving the Golden State

California is a spectacular state: oceans, gorgeous weather, and sunshine nearly every day of the year. It sounds like paradise, so friends and family were probably a little surprised when we packed our bags and left.

Working for a small biotechnology company in Ventura, California, our jobs fell victim to outsourcing. With the skyrocketing cost of living in California, apartment rent was no longer feasible. Unless we were willing to take out loans beyond our ability to pay, owning a house was completely out of the picture. Two professionals with college degrees, an inability to afford housing, and a shaky employment situation prompted us to leave: it was the best decision we could have ever made.

Yes, we moved from this gorgeous place. It was totally worth it.
Yes, we moved from this gorgeous place. It was totally worth it.

The Rust Belt: Better Living

We found jobs in the Great Lakes area, better known as the Rust Belt, since manufacturing and other blue-collar jobs have taken a big hit. Surprisingly, white collar jobs are increasing in the general area, and even Detroit is begging for mechanical engineers. For people who have a technical degree, moving to the Rust Belt can significantly improve quality of life.

To wit, we were able to purchase a house on one acre of land, with a monthly mortgage payment that is less than our California rent payment used to be. Granted, taxes and monthly utility bills add to the expense, but houses can be found for less than the cost of an expensive car: there are many houses in our local area for $50,000. When income is limited, it is possible to own a house - even on a single income.

Amazing Schools

While some large metropolitan areas do not have schools suffering the malaise of the rest of the nation's educational system, the outlying small cities and rural areas have unparalleled educational opportunities. Shortly after moving to our home, we had two small boys. Our local elementary school has a swimming pool, extremely high test scores, and music, art, and gym classes for every child. Full-day kindergarten is the norm, and a free universal pre-kindergarten program is available for four year old children.

Our former state, sadly, rates as below average for math and science education. While we miss the sun and the ocean, there is nothing that can replace living in a state which consistently ranks in the top 10 for education. Both of our boys receive an excellent academic education, in addition to music, art, and physical education classes.

A natural playground.
A natural playground.

A Place of Natural Wonders

Instead of living in an expensive subdivision with zero-lot-lines, our kids roam into the woods and play in creeks. Video games can't hold a candle to catching fireflies on a warm June evening. Living in the rural Midwest means a quieter pace of life, which can be trying in the cold winter months. On the other hand, our children know the thrill of sledding, jumping in massive leaf piles, and splashing in creeks looking for bullfrogs.

Traffic jams are non-existent, unless a deer decides to wander onto the roadway, that is. Bears and turkeys might cause a temporary roadblock, too. Cars, however, are not the problem. We never have to count in "traffic time" to get to our destination - the highways are smooth sailing.

We don't have many amusement parks, and our shopping mall is a single level affair. Not surprisingly, we don't miss these things: the trade-off is much, much better.

Yes, it snows. A lot.
Yes, it snows. A lot.

It Isn't All Good, But It Is Worth It

The winters here seem never ending. There are times we wonder if the sun is, indeed, a myth: there are "nine weeks of summer," and then fall and spring - the best two days of the year. The effect of bad weather can't be underestimated, as getting up at 6:00am to use a snow blower on the driveway is not in the "fun" category. Slogging wet winter coats and mittens through the mall can be a chore, and the snow often gets too deep for my three year old to play in. By the time March arrives, we are thoroughly sick of winter: and we have another two months of snow ahead!

Still, the benefits far outweigh the negatives, and we try to make the most of the long winter months. We go to the ice castle festival, we sled down the hills, and we remember our dear friend's favorite slogan: "There is no bad weather, only bad clothing." Gortex is our friend.

Hearing words like the "Rust Belt" makes one cringe away from an area, thinking of a place filled with dilapidated factories and grimy streets. In truth, the area is filled with beautiful state parks, rolling farm land, and emerging technology companies in a location that young families can not only afford, but thrive in.


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    • leahlefler profile imageAUTHOR

      Leah Lefler 

      7 years ago from Western New York

      We'd probably be happy wherever we were planted. We're also "next to nowhere," and really enjoy watching the wildlife in our area!

    • wheelinallover profile image

      Dennis Thorgesen 

      7 years ago from Beatrice, Nebraska U.S.

      Having lived on both coasts from Pennsylvania to Alabama on the east and California and Oregon on the west. Add to that from the Black hills of South Dakota in north central to Oklahoma city in the south. I think I will stay right where I am. In the middle of the country right next to the middle of No where. LOL

    • leahlefler profile imageAUTHOR

      Leah Lefler 

      7 years ago from Western New York

      I will have to visit Guatemala some day! It is a beautiful country, from the pictures I have seen!

    • RicardoE profile image

      Ricardo Enrique 

      7 years ago from Guatemala City

      if you like nice weather and beautifull landscapes, you should visit my country: Guatemala :) I will never leave my country, I might travel but I will always come back.

    • leahlefler profile imageAUTHOR

      Leah Lefler 

      7 years ago from Western New York

      Don't get me wrong: there is a lot to love about California. For people who have an income source in the state which affords them the ability to live in a high-performing school distric AND afford a house, there would be no reason to leave. Most people can't afford a house in a wealthy Californian suburb, or can't find a job in the rural areas of California: for those people, looking outside the state to other places may be a good idea.

      If we didn't have children and could afford a house in California, we would live there. The low crime, great schools, and the ability to afford a house are what keep us in the Great Lakes region. These things are the general rule here, and not the exception.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Don't see me leaving San Diego, but you made the Rust Belt sound very attractive. Thanks

    • SweetiePie profile image


      7 years ago from Southern California, USA

      I disagree with some of your assessment of California. Actually, some Southern California towns and cities have the best schools in the country, but that might mean moving to a more isolated community and working at a job that is not as high paying as the original. Not to be all in love with California, but as a native California girl I have to defend my state. However, I actually think it might be good for all the disenchanted to leave. We have so many beautiful deserts and mountain ranges here, I would never trade that for any part of the country. Do not take this the wrong way, but I have talked to people in the Michigan area that talk about chronic unemployment too. I believe the only state that is really booming right now is Texas really.

    • Maggie-May profile image

      Nadine M AuCoin 

      7 years ago from the Island of Cape Breton to the Eastern Shores near Halifax, NS

      Nice informative, thanks for sharing!

    • leahlefler profile imageAUTHOR

      Leah Lefler 

      7 years ago from Western New York

      Everyone has a different circumstance. For young families, the inability to afford a house or educate children are very large issues. Job stability was another issue for us, though that is problematic throughout the States at the moment. If you own your own business and can afford housing, there is no reason to move!

    • DzyMsLizzy profile image

      Liz Elias 

      7 years ago from Oakley, CA

      CA born and bred--I'll never matter how bad things get...and believe me, they're bad. We have a small ceramics business...and China is our main competition...try & make a living that way! Add to that the fact that my husband is on disability...and we're not going anywhere. Even moving costs $$ we don't have.

      Besides, we have a 'deal' with snow: we don't go see it, and it doesn't come see us! I cannot stand the cold. I makes me physically ache all over, and puts me in a rotten mood--way beyond bad mood--way beyond 'b**h* ..all the way into angry, vindictive, aggessive, mad-at-the-world mood.

      Interesting viewpoint, and if it worked for you, I'm happy for you. But I'm staying put. ;-)


    • leahlefler profile imageAUTHOR

      Leah Lefler 

      7 years ago from Western New York

      I often have to remind myself why we moved to such a cold and snowy location (especially in January)! This place is truly fantastic for children, families, and nature lovers. We have had bear, deer, turkeys, raccoons, foxes, and other animals in our yard on a regular basis. As a former suburbanite, I love it!

    • artlader profile image


      7 years ago from Aiken, South Carolina, USA


      Thanks for confirming what I had always suspected about Middle America.

      Nice hub.




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