CHILLICOTHE, Ohio—Heroin robbed Tracey Kemper-Hermann of her husband, and sometimes she misses him most when she’s trying to start her lawnmower. Her husband, Jason, had his own special trick to getting the finicky machine running, and since his death in 2014, the responsibility of cutting the grass has fallen to Kemper-Hermann. She’s accumulated other tasks too, like a sherpa adding more and more weight until her back might break. It’s not just figuring out how to support a family on one income. She has to change the flat tire on her daughter’s 2004 Dodge Neon, and navigate the difficulties of parenting, like deciding what to say when her daughter, now 17, comes downstairs wearing shorts that are just too short. “She’s a super good kid, but if she doesn’t come home when she’s supposed to, I think to him, ‘Why did you leave me alone with a teenager?’”
Men were once the primary breadwinners in areas like Ross County, where they worked good manufacturing jobs and came home at the end of the day to wives like Kemper-Hermann, who sometimes worked, but sometimes stayed home. But today in Ross County, manufacturing jobs have been outsourced or automated, and men have more time on their hands and less income to support their families. Some have turned to alcohol or drugs to fill their time—Ross County is one of the areas of Ohio hit hardest by the opioid epidemic—and are dying early of drug overdoses or other health problems. Others are just spending more and more time watching TV and playing video games. Women like Kemper-Hermann are left to raise children, work full-time jobs, and generally pick up the pieces of a region ravaged by the opioid epidemic and the decline of manufacturing.