Indiana Working-Class Voters Hope Trump Will Deliver On Jobs Promises

Nov 12, 2016
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Trump's victory in states like Pennsylvania, Ohio and Michigan was fueled in part by his success with blue-collar voters. In northern Indiana's factory towns, working-class voters now hope that President-elect Trump will deliver on those promises and bring manufacturing jobs back. NPR's David Schaper reports.

DAVID SCHAPER, BYLINE: In the shadow of the hulking steel mills along the southern rim of Lake Michigan, lunchtime patrons at the Rosewood Family Restaurant in Portage, Ind., remain focused on a key issue that drove many of their votes - the economy.

DAVE HANSEN: What economy?

SCHAPER: Seventy-six-year-old Dave Hansen is retired from the trucking business.

HANSEN: Where's the big economy around here? Where's all these steel mills working? They ain't working. We have people laid off. The economy's bad in this part of the country.

SCHAPER: The steel industry here in northern Indiana and all around the country is hurting. Steel mill jobs are disappearing because of a glut on the world market and, in particular, the dumping of cheap steel by China. President-elect Trump promised during the campaign to stand up to China.

DONALD JONES: Well, I just hope he lives up to what he was telling us he would do.

SCHAPER: Retired steelworker Donald Jones says he did not support Trump, but he could in the future.

JONES: But if Trump can accomplish that and truly impose good tariffs on imported steel, then I would vote for him. You know what I mean?

SCHAPER: Others here like Trump's call to sanction U.S. companies that move factories out of the U.S. David Barry trains truck drivers.

DAVID BARRY: Manufacturing's overseas, so we need to hopefully bring manufacturing back. I don't know how that's going to be feasible, but if it does a slight improvement, it'll help.

SCHAPER: Barry says he voted for Trump because he spoke directly to the struggling working class.

BARRY: There's a lot of Americans out of work, OK? Working-class America - like he said, we need to make our country great again. You get manufacturing, get people working, everything picks up.

SCHAPER: He calls it the domino effect - something Rosewood Restaurant server Tanya Atkins knows something about well.

TANYA ATKINS: If he sticks to his word, like he has promised us - that he's going to bring us more business, which will bring us more mills, which will bring us more customers, which makes my pay go up and my bills get paid.

SCHAPER: About 80 miles to the east, many of those shooting pool or sitting at the bar here in the Courthouse Pub in downtown Goshen, Ind., work in the RV industry. When President Obama made this area the first place he visited after taking office in 2009, Elkhart County here had the highest unemployment rate in the country. The RV business has picked up tremendously since then. Area factories now can't fill all of their open jobs, but 54-year-old David Pinkerman says the long unemployment lines are always in the back of his mind.

DAVID PINKERMAN: We have another economy collapse, the people sitting in this place right now - we're all done.

PINKERMAN: Many here seem to have a hard time trusting that the recovery will last. And RV service technician Randy Leinback says one key reason for that is...

RANDY LEINBACK: The price of oil.

SCHAPER: Gas-guzzling RVs don't sell when fuel prices are high, so Leinback wants President-elect Trump to approve more pipeline, support fracking and...

LEINBACK: Expand on offshore oil drilling and keeping the oil flowing to keep the gas prices low.

SCHAPER: But outside of the Courthouse Pub is another point of view.

ASHLEY FENNER: I think that Obama was on a good roll.

SCHAPER: Twenty-six-year-old Ashley Fenner says too few people in Elkhart County, which Trump won by a more than two-to-one margin, give President Obama enough credit for fixing the economy here. Her friend Hope Griffith isn't optimistic, but wants Trump to keep the country moving forward.

HOPE GRIFFITH: I would like to see him sound like a president, look a president, act like a president.

SCHAPER: The young women also hope President-elect Trump can help the country come together after such a bitter campaign. David Schaper, NPR News, in Goshen, Ind. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.