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