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'Flyover country' gets attention with essays by Sarah Kendzior

'Flyover country' gets attention with essays by Sarah Kendzior

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“The View From Flyover Country” assembles essays by political writer Sarah Kendzior on topics from American gentrification and race relations, to media bias and the city of St. Louis, where she lives, freelances and earned her doctorate in anthropology from Washington University.

But the common thread through the essays is the economic disparity since the 2008 recession, or what Kendzior terms a “post-employment economy,” which touches everyone from “fast food workers to adjunct professors.” Minimum wage jobs are no longer for teens but adults supporting families. And Kendzior reports that 67 percent of college classes are taught by adjunct faculty paid an average of $10,500 annually without benefits.

According to Kendzior, the white-collar world offers little respite: “corporations making record earnings will not allocate their budgets to provide menial compensation to the workers who make them a success.” This has happened as “companies have turned permanent jobs into contingency labor, and entry-level positions into unpaid internships,” she writes.

Those unpaid internships, along with rising tuition costs, make it harder than ever, writes Kendzior, for a new graduate to reconcile the “sunk costs” of a college degree. They are made harder still by the media manager seeking to hire “a 22-year-old willing to work 22-hour days for $22,000 a year” or a “22-22-22.”

“Education was once a path out of poverty, and not a way into it,” Kendzior notes.

Kendzior’s writing, while often concise and clever like this, is just as often backed by statistics, attributions or an illustrative profile. She rarely resorts to humor to make a point (though she does allow one well-placed Thomas Pynchon quote to do so). She is mostly loved by the left and shouted down by the right — with more than 345,000 Twitter followers. Kendzior writes for mainstream print worldwide and makes guest appearances on MSNBC and other TV outlets.

Though her message is alarming, it is softened with compassion. She points out again and again how “the individual is often blamed” — even self-blamed — for going to college, for not going to college, for choosing the wrong career. Kendzior firmly believes any blame should be kicked up.

The essays in “The View From Flyover Country” were written in 2012 to 2014, released as an ebook in 2015, and updated with an introduction and epilogue for print. Her writing has been called prescient. Indeed, with Facebook in the headlines, an excerpt from a 2013 essay reads: “People in positions of power — in government and in corporations like Facebook and Google — need to come clean with what they know and why they want to know it. Our privacy settings, literally and figuratively, need to stop shifting.”

Let us hope Kendzior’s predictive powers are true about St. Louis; she believes it might be uniquely situated to be on the leading edge of change. Once the fourth largest city in the country, the city has become one that “does not make it into the news unless something awful happens,” she writes. This city knows what it is to struggle — a lesson all of America is learning right now. St. Louis, she says, “might be the one to rise up.”

Holly Silva is a St. Louis editor.

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