Middletown’s ‘Hillbilly Elegy’ author seeks solutions for Ohio’s problems

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Middletown’s ‘Hillbilly Elegy’ author seeks solutions for Ohio’s problems

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In this file photo, J.D. Vance, author of the best-selling book “Hillbilly Elegy” and Middletown native, spoke March 9 at Dave Finkelman Auditorium at Miami University Middletown campus in Middletown. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF

Middletown native and best-selling author J.D. Vance is out to solve Ohio’s problems, including the opioid addiction crisis, family instability and workforce preparedness.

But he is quick to say: “I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t have all the answers to these questions.”

Vance delivered a lecture Tuesday at Ohio State University before several hundred people, walking through major hurdles that block poor Ohioans from achieving the American Dream.

Vance said factors that trap poor kids at the bottom of the socio-economic ladder include: family instability marked by frequent moves, toxic stress, drug addiction and imprisonment; concentrated poverty where children don’t see others succeeding in their neighborhoods; and a decline in civic engagement.

The opioid addiction crisis has made family instability worse and is a driver of grandparents living in poverty as they struggle to take care of children whose parents are addicted. Vance said his new non-profit organization is working on finding ways to help kinship guardians take care of these opioid addiction crisis orphans.

Vance vaulted to national attention in 2016 with the publication of “Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis,” a New York Times best seller that offered insight into the struggles of America’s white working class. The book came out just as Donald Trump seized the GOP presidential nomination with a platform that appealed to white working class voters who felt left behind.

Vance, who graduated Ohio State University and Yale Law School, relocated to Columbus from San Francisco to start a non-profit, Our Ohio Renewal, with Jai Chabria, a former top aide to Gov. John Kasich. Ohio State also named Vance a scholar in residence in its political science department.

Vance criticized the current approaches to problems, saying the country needs to re-work its education system to train workers for the new economy and re-vamp public policies to invest in new industries that will create good-paying jobs.

“I happen to believe we have 21st century problems that require 21st century answers,” Vance said.

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