Alana Semuels
Alana Semuels
Alana Semuels is a staff writer at The Atlantic. She was previously a national correspondent for the Los Angeles Times.
Anne Kitzman / zhu difeng / Shutterstock / ...

America’s Great Divergence

A growing earnings gap between those with a college education and those without is creating economic and cultural rifts throughout the country.

  • Alana Semuels / The Atlantic

    Getting High-School Grads Into the Closed-Off World of Tech

    A Silicon Valley program is matching young, lower-income workers with employers eager to diversify their ranks

  • Carlos Barria / Reuters

    Why It’s So Hard to Get Ahead in the South

    In Charlotte and other Southern cities, poor children have the lowest odds of making it to the top income bracket of kids anywhere in the country. Why?

  • John Minchillo / AP

    The Problem With Modern Philanthropy

    A new book argues that the giving patterns of today’s wealthy may present challenges to the democratic process.

  • Alana Semuels / The Atlantic

    Is Economic Despair What's Killing Middle-Aged White Americans?

    Two Princeton economists elaborate on their work exploring rising mortality rates among certain demographics.

  • Arnd Wiegmann / Reuters

    Maybe the Economy Isn't the Reason Why So Many American Men Aren't Working

    Many experts have blamed a poor job market, but new research indicates that an overlooked cause may be poor health.

  • Eric Thayer / Reuters

    How Trump's Budget Would Impact Cities' Poorest Residents

    Programs that help low-income Americans are not among the administration’s priorities in its just-released budget.

  • Mike Blake / Reuters

    The Future of the Department of Labor Under Trump

    David Weil, an Obama appointee who headed up DOL's wage-and-hour division, reflects on the previous administration and assesses the early days of the current one.

  • Reuters

    When Factory Jobs Vanish, Men Become Less Desirable Partners

    Declines in manufacturing employment are shaping the structure of the American family.

  • Alana Semuels / The Atlantic

    The Downsides of 'Efficiency'

    Company mergers led to plant closures in this small town, illustrating how what’s good for consumers can often be bad for communities.

  • Tony Avelar / AP

    When Robots Take Bad Jobs

    Maybe it’s a good thing the trucking industry is ripe for automation.

  • Brendan McDermid / Reuters

    Why #DeleteUber and Other Boycotts Matter

    Even when a relatively small number of people participate

  • Courtesy of the Robinson-Spangler Carolina Room – Charlotte ...

    ‘Segregation Had to Be Invented’

    During the late 19th century, blacks and whites in the South lived closer together than they do today.

  • Carolyn Kaster / AP

    Why the Puzder Nomination Fell Apart

    The fast-food mogul faced opposition from both liberal and conservative groups, though for different reasons.

  • Answering Your Questions on Trump and the Rust Belt

    A West Virginia delegate wears a Trump sticker on his hard hat during the second day of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio, on July 19, 2016. Aaron P. Bernstein / Reuters

    (Editor’s note: Alana Semuels joined the TAD discussion group of Atlantic readers for an “Ask Me Anything,” and a lightly edited version of that Q&A is below. Reader questions are in bold, followed by replies from Semuels.)

    Hi Alana. Welcome to TAD and thank you for being here. I live in the heart of the Rust Belt—Pittsburgh—and I was wondering what you see as the best hope for river towns like Aliquippa and Beaver Falls that were founded on steel but now barely scrape by. We are losing young people at a rate of  30 percent, I think. A couple towns have found a niche and have become viable, but I just don’t see many of these places recovering. Do you think they will inevitably eventually disappear like so many other towns in the Midwest?

    I started my journalism career in Pittsburgh, at the Post-Gazette, so I have a special alliance to the region (except to the Steelers. Go Pats!). There are towns—like Goshen, Indiana—that have survived the rural exodus, mostly by specializing in a few niche industries. My article “America Is Still Making Things” talks a little more about this. But only a few towns are going to be able to pull this off. I think the rest are going to keep losing population and young people. There’s hope for them to become retirement communities, but that’s not necessarily the most dynamic economic engine.

    As someone who really went around and talked to a lot of people from all corners of America, did you think Trump might win the election? Or were you as surprised as the rest of us?

    No, I was surprised, too. I wish I had talked to more people about this before the election, but I, like many other journalists, was focused on other things.

    What do you think is the biggest misconception people have about the average Trump voter?

    Democrats seem to think Trump voters are dumb; they aren’t. They just really don’t like Democrats, especially Hillary. A lot of the people I talked to said they were more anti-Hillary than they were pro-Trump. A friend who is a pollster said people in his groups thought Hillary was a liar and Trump an a-hole, and they’d rather vote for an a-hole than a liar.

    I think a lot of people were long-time Republicans, and are as unlikely to change parties as urban Democrats are. But there was one woman who said to me she didn’t know who she was voting for until she got into the voting booth, and then she thought about the FBI and Hillary, and then voted for Trump. I think she is fairly representative.

    It irritates me when Democrats criticize Rust Belt voters for supporting Trump. That’s the point of voting—everyone gets to choose who they want. Alexander Hamilton would have liked only the educated people to choose who was in charge, but that’s not a democracy.

    Do you think sexism was a big factor in Midwest voters’ hate for Hillary?

    No, I actually don’t. But I’m a business reporter, not a politics reporter, so I could be wrong.

    Anne Kitzman / zhu difeng / Shutterstock / Katie Martin / The Atlantic

    What is the most surprising thing you learned while researching “America’s Great Divergence”?

    Well the most surprising thing was when I was sitting at a pizza parlor talking to two young guys who said some really racist stuff (they didn’t like cities because they had too many black people, etc), which they knew was on the record. I think it really illuminated for me how different the two worlds are: What they were saying was perfectly fine to say in the world they lived in. In the world I live in, it was shocking.

    Where is somewhere you’ve traveled that has really surprised you and changed how you think, either in a good way or a bad way?

    Beaumont, Texas, was a fascinating place for me to visit. I had written a lot about segregation at that point, but it is often hard to articulate why segregation is so problematic (beyond general issues of equality and fairness). But I talked to a mother whose daughter had been succeeding in a good school in a white neighborhood, and then had to move to a bad school in a poor neighborhood. In the first school, her daughter had access to a computer, books, and an engaged teacher. In the second one, many of the kids in her class didn’t know how to read.

    Based on what you’ve seen of America, do you consider it likely or unlikely that large-scale violent conflict breaks out between factions of Americans?

    Hmm, I don’t think widespread violence is likely. One interesting thing I’ve noticed in trips since the election is how everyone is just going about their daily lives as before. Guys, the world has not ended (!!). If anything, people seem more politically engaged than ever.

    One of the things I was most curious about after the election was who was going to be impacted first and soonest (apparently, the answer was immigrants from seven countries). But people live locally, and act locally, and will see little changed in their lives for now, I think.

      What do you think is the limit at which Trump’s support among rural voters collapses, if there even is one?

      I have thought about this a lot, and I think that the limit is a lot higher than Democrats would hope. I was in rural North Carolina last week talking to voters, and I was surprised how many of them—poor, rich, white, black—said they thought Trump was doing a good job. (This was in the midst of the immigration furor.) They said they thought he had a big mouth, and said things that he shouldn’t, but they wanted to give him a shot to turn the country around.

      Trump speaks during a campaign stop at Alumisource, a metals recycling facility in Monessen, Pennsylvania, on June 28, 2016. (Keith Srakocic / AP)

      I enjoyed your story “President Trump, Job Creator?” Do you think that Trump either knows or cares that companies are playing him by letting him claim credit for things that they were going to do anyway?

      I think he loves this. Announcements like Intel’s recent one about the chip factory in Arizona make him look good, even though he did nothing to make them happen. Intel, like most companies that make these announcements, had planned to do this long ago. By announcing it Trump’s way, though, they might be able to curry favor with him. I don’t think they’re playing him; I think he’s playing them.

      What do you think will be the long-term ramifications of Trump’s economic policies? Do you think these ramifications could have a major impact on how rural areas vote, or do you think values and religious concerns will still be supreme?

      • Bettmann / Getty Images

        How Immigrants Have Contributed to American Inventiveness

        Fields with more foreign-born inventors see a bump in patents, which leads to economic growth.

      • Pablo Martinez Monsivais / AP

        President Trump, Job Creator?

        Companies have announced a spate of new domestic investments and jobs in recent weeks. And the new president has taken credit.

      • Gene Blythe / AP

        Do Regulations Really Kill Jobs?

        Republicans love to blame the Environmental Protection Agency for some of the country’s economic woes. Is that a fair assertion?

      • Zach Gibson / AP

        The Contradictions of Ben Carson's Vision for American Housing

        In his confirmation hearing, he simultaneously pledged to maintain and eliminate programs from the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

      • Lucas Jackson / Reuters

        How Norwegians and Americans See Inequality Differently

        According to a recent study, the former are much less comfortable with the idea of luck determining well-being.

      • Eli Lilly and Company

        America Is Still Making Things

        Manufacturing is dead. Long live manufacturing.