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Middletown, USA (Muncie, Indiana)- Saving Face on Facebook

Is Middletown, USA (Muncie, Indiana-made famous through the “Middletown Studies”) and much of the rest of America  forced  to save “face” on Facebook? 
 
The math says “Yes.”
 
*Disclaimer fact: American women, on average, earn 80% of their male counterparts. However, in Muncie, Indiana this figure is upside down; According to the 2010 Census Bureau, women’s annual income is 80% LESS ($12K annually) than their male counterparts ($22K) in Muncie, IN, DESPITE the fact that women out-perform men academically, in primary, secondary, and higher education, here and nationwide.
 
Both income figures are well-below state and national averages.
 
It’s no wonder why so many in Muncie, Indiana are forced to save face. 
 
Original Article- can be found here at the Muncie Voice:
 

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There’s more to this story than Muncie’s Facebook users could ever care to tell. 

While this E-Cards meme is tongue and cheek, depending upon the messenger, it packs a snarky and passive-aggressive punch, intended to scold fellow social media users who only share media that in some form or another accentuates and/or creates the illusion of the positive:  Photos of family vacations, pictures of happy children, small victories, while omitting their personal failures or struggles- the private heartaches, legal woes, poor decisions, an empty or overdrawn bank account, an empty pantry and refrigerator, a horrible job situation, no job, an addiction, the struggles of being a single parent, crumbling marriages or relationships, infidelity, chronic illness (their own or a loved one’s),  a messy house, a messy life, living beyond their means and living in or on the edge of poverty.

Is this meme really a cry for TRUE authenticity?  Does the creator of this meme and those who pass it along REALLY want their privately suffering friends to broadcast their turmoil upon social media? Are they really prepared to hold themselves accountable to the same authenticity standards they demand from others?

Or are Facebook and social media users in America, particularly here in Muncie, developing their social media platforms as a means to save “face”? 

It all boils down to math. 

The Untold and Real Stories of Today’s American Facebook Users; Courtesy of Math

According to data collected by the Pew Internet Research Data Bank-as of May 2013, 72% of adults use social networking sites and among America’s population of 313.9 million,  there are more than 167 million Facebook users alone; 76% of them are living paycheck to paycheck. Additionally, according to Pew Internet Research– 72% of them reside in households that are considered low-income with breadwinners earning less than a total of $30,000 a year.

In America, according to the United States Census Bureau, 2010-and the Associated Press– nearly 80% (4 out 5) of U.S. adults- struggle with joblessness, near-poverty or reliance on welfare for at least parts of their lives, today.  45% of all American children live in low-income families, according to the NCCP.

Financially secure?  Of the 2.5 million marriages that occur annually approximately 50% of them will end in divorce. That number increases with the number of marriages. “50% percent of first marriages, 67% of second and 74% of third marriages end in divorce.” According to Jennifer Baker of the Forest Institute of Professional Psychology in Springfield, Missouri.  Being a single parent is also a significant well-being hurdle to clear; According to Life Site News: “1/3 of American children are being raised without a father and nearly five million children live without a mother.”

If all is well in money or love, it is reported by the American Bar Association that about ½ of all American households face legal battles, including civil and criminal matters, possibly even incarceration.  If lucky to be financially secure, maintain a stable relationship, and manage to avoid legal woes, according to PBS-In the Balance, it is reported that approximately 125 million Americans are dealing with, or experiencing chronic illness and according the CDC, about half of all Americans are suffering from (directly or indirectly) mental health issues.  Additionally, Hope Networks.org reports that nearly 24 million Americans have an active addiction and as many as a whopping 75 million Americans, including children of addicted parents are directly/indirectly affected by a loved one’s addiction.

Question: What is the point, Debbie Downer?

Answer: Everyone has problems.

But you wouldn’t know it perusing Facebook statuses.  

Given all this data, it is a statistical probability that most social media users, even those who find themselves passing this meme along are probably experiencing some sort of personal or family dysfunction and/or privately suffering from a significant or seemingly insurmountable stressor, and blabbing about near-poverty, legal problems, an addiction, an impending divorce (or miserable marriage/relationship) and an empty bank account may not be on the list of things they want to share with the world, not if they want to keep their jobs and save “Face”.

Middletown-Muncie’s Brave Face and NEW AND REAL Story; Also-Courtesy of Math

Muncie bears the ultimate success story of a family with a vision: The Ball family, whose culmination of businesses became the beating heart of a town and put it on the map.  Their vision took its form in Ball Corporation, a growing and thriving Ball State University, and Ball Memorial Hospital, which is now IU Health/Ball Memorial.  Not to mention all the businesses, start-ups, charities and causes the Ball family has historically supported.  Muncie has served as a launching pad for generations of successful individuals.  Muncie has a deep history of loyalty, growth and busselling middle-class opportunity, particularly when auto-manufacturer Borg-Warner was in its prime during the 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s. Ball Corp, AB&B, and Borg Warner among others, have since left.

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Borg Warner “Then”- The BorgWarner plant in Muncie closed April 24. 2009. At its peak, it employed about 3000 autoworkers, 
Photo by Stephen Smith

 

Fast-forward to 2013.

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Borg Warner “Now”- Kilgore Ave, Muncie, IN. October 10th, 2013- Photograph, Aimee Fant; Muncie Voice

Across the street from Borg Warner is huge parking lot that was once used for employee parking.  Now in 2013 Second Harvest (with the help of many non-profit partners/churches, including Unitarian Universalist) convenes here to feed hundreds of Muncie and East Central families in need, who line up every Second Thursday of every month to receive groceries.

Oct. 10th- 2013 Aimee Fant

Cars with occupants in need line up to receive groceries across in the former Borg Warner parking lot- courtesy of Second Harvest; Oct. 10th- 2013- Aimee Fant, Muncie Voice

If you happen to live in Muncie and are discouraged by diminishing financial resources and limited economic opportunities, you are not alone and it is not just in your head.  Despite Muncie’s well-published (and well-deserved) break into Forbes’ Magazine-Top 400 for Small Business (for owners/management)- finishing #34, upon closer inspection, the economic prognosis for the average Muncie resident appears more bleak, and even dire for this generation of children if there aren’t some significant and immediate changes on the horizon should Muncie not be able to once again, find its feet.

In addressing the past exodus of businesses from Muncie, Muncie-Delaware County Economic Development Alliance has succeeded in attracting Dannar LLC, an auto manufacturer, and announced that approximately 288 jobs will be created over the next 4 years. Downtown Development, and so many other groups are working hard to grow Muncie, by proposing private/public partnerships and investments.

There are several omissions in Forbes’ summer of 2013 analysis. Though there has been a 4% uptick in employment in the past year, those positions are predominantly part-time service and retail positions; full-time positions have been spliced and replaced with a growing number of part-time positions, without benefits, which cannot sustain a family (without the assistance of the government).

The middle-income manufacturing jobs and technology jobs with benefits that brought prosperity to Muncie have increasingly been downsized, moved, and/or outsourced to Mexico (and separately-Asia) since the implementation of NAFTA in 1994, increasing profit margins for business owners and stockholders, growing the economies in other countries and playing a sizable role in shrinking Muncie’s economy alongside the national economy. NAFTA has since brought forth the decline of the American middle class.  The United States lost an estimated 689,200 jobs on account of NAFTA. Indiana was among the hardest hit.

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It has also been rumored that many employers have begun or plan to cut full-time employees to avoid covering health insurance, recently- in response to mandates of health coverage Affordable Care Act, which has now been in full-scale launch and most changes are already underway.  The trend of replacing full-time, tenured employees with cheaper or part-time staff has been increasing over a number of years and is on the rise in Right-to-Work states.  IU Health/Ball Memorial Hospital cut just under 200 employees in 2013, citing the ACA.

However, the reasons cited for these job and benefit cuts would be easier to swallow if  executive compensation weren’t continuing to climb at a rate of 5+% a year over the past decade.   The workplace trend leans toward large employers demanding more of their employees, paying them less, and pocketing the difference.

Everywhere, USA- Muncie, IN

Studied thoroughly as a representation of “Everywhere, USA” or as research scientists- the Lynds called it: “Middletown, America” in a field study that began and was conducted in the late 1920’s and continued as a series of longitudinal studies, it can only be assumed that all the various economic crescendos and decrescendos are playing out, improving financial outcomes for a minute portion- (between 1-10%) but mostly negatively affecting the rest, just as they are doing through-out the rest of the U.S.

To see the real economic story of Muncie residents, neighborhood by neighborhood, use the interactive map tool provided below:

A Snapshot Map of Muncie’s Household Incomes-by Area.

According to the data collected by the US Census Bureau– 2010- The poverty level in Muncie is 159.3% greater than the Indiana average and 87.8% greater than the National average.

And perhaps the ugliest statistic of all for Muncie families, especially for full-time employed Muncie women and/or single mothers: The median earnings for females in Muncie is 81.7% LESS than the median earnings for males in Muncie; Full-time employed women earn an average of just $12,553 per year versus $21,227 per year for men.  DESPITE women out-performing men academically, in primary, secondary, and higher education, here and nationwide. 

The income per capita in Muncie is 23.4% less than the Indiana average and 35.5% less than the National average. The median household income in Muncie is 33.9% less than the Indiana average and is 42.9% less than the National average.  (That is nearly ½ the National average) With Muncie’s cost of living index sitting at -18% of the National average, the slightly lower cost of living do not offset the wage shortfalls.

The average median individual wage in the United States is $26,965 a year, while the average median individual wage for an individual in Muncie, is just $16,394, which is $10K and approximately 1/3 less  than the national average. Each of these figures are provided by the United States Census Bureau, 2010.

What’s worse is that number, despite rising costs of living, rising costs of fuel and food, is that salaries adjusted to inflation and the cost of living, particularly among public employees, as the size of federal and the Indiana government shrinks, the tax base becomes smaller, and property tax cuts have been implemented, have gone down over the past decade.

A signpost of the times and lack of state funding comes with a 2013 referendum, in which Muncie Community Schools (literally) had to beg residents for funds to keep school buses running.  Residents voted “No” on Tues. Nov. 5th, 2013.  Subsequently, MCS applied for a waiver from the State of Indiana, and that was rejected. It is unclear if the SB1062 measure to end/delay property tax caps will aide MCS in its efforts to fund bus service. As it stands, MCS will be forced to cut personnel and implement other cost-cutting measures to fund bus transportation. Public school systems in Indiana are facing similar financial crises as levied funds are limited with property tax caps in place in combination with the new school voucher program in which tax-payer funds are moving away from public education and toward private, parochial and charter schools.

Social Media has created the Unstoppable Competing with the Jones’ Monster

While social media has provided a platform for many to connect with and “hobnob” with all walks of life, breaking the barriers of generation disconnects, economic circles and former understood social status norms that define our natural world interactions, it also provides an opportunity for users to see “how the other half lives”. The fact remains that there is massive economic inequality in the natural world and it places out upon social media; the CEO vs. Average American Worker wage gap, which according to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics in 2013 is (CEO)354-(American Worker) 1–  plays out in various ways through social media- which for those with fewer economic resources is disconcerting and can amplify feelings of insecurity and resentment.

Illustrated through an moving graphic map that flows through 36 years of change- beginning in 1977 and ending in 2013, watch the top 1% gobble up America’s economy. The shades of red represent more equal economic conditions and the green represent a gross disparity in economic conditions.  These disparities are seen now more than ever through social media sharing, as users see every day how the other (upper) half (who are we kidding-upper 10%) lives, while they are silently suffering- not able to take expensive vacations with their families, not able to go out (in some cases, even on a date night) or even afford to buy Pizza King (a Muncie favorite, and frequent flyer on social media).

Lending a Hand to Those Saving Face

Life-long residents in Muncie could tell you that you don’t have to look too far to see that many in Muncie are working hard to save “her”.  Though many residents and their families have been forced to “jump ship” there are plenty of loyal folks who have stayed and are dedicated to help build her back up.  They lend a hand to those in need, through investments and/or volunteer work.  Muncie has a large network of proud volunteer organizations that are addressing poverty and budgetary state funding social program shortfalls.  MyMuncie.org connects volunteers, organizations to causes.many financially-secure Facebook and social media users (regardless of income bracket) have been made aware of charitable causes, community organizations, and have more opportunities to donate time and money through social media.  Many volunteer organizations depend upon Facebook and other social media websites to raise awareness.

Many who save face are not “Living a Lie”.

They simply choose not to discuss their turmoil on social media.  Regardless of what Muncie residents say on social media, many of them appear to be suffering in the natural world, even those with audacity to share the featured meme.

In a roller-coastery economy and internet trails that extend forever, maybe some self-restraint and positive PR isn’t so bad if we want to keep our jobs or want to build a better life.  Perhaps a little empathy, self-reflection and perspective is in order for those who wish for their friends’ private turmoil to be made public.

And authenticity? To demand it of others, we must first look within.

We may keep in mind “Let he who is without sin, cast the first stone” (John 8:7)  

Instead of spreading the patronizing sentiment  “May your life one day be as awesome as you pretend it is on Facebook

At least keep this in mind.

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3 thoughts on “Middletown, USA (Muncie, Indiana)- Saving Face on Facebook

  1. I do get your sentiment, but I always understood this e-card as a tongue in cheek take at the people who feel like if they did something, it must be on Facebook and it must make all of their exs and their new SOs jealous. As in people who don’t really have this super-positive attitude about their life, but rather pretend they do with the sole intention of appearing socially superior.

    Having said that, I completely agree with the hard battle thing, it’s very true.

    • Hi Milda! The said meme is tongue and cheek. It was amusing when I first read it several months ago….I thought nothing of it. Until I saw it again recently and realized the intent of that particular poster; It was an attempt to bully. But yes….it is harmless. Funny how intent and a messenger can change an innocuous meme, eh? Thanks for reading!

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