“We’re coming apart as a culture…we must rediscover the traditional sources of meaning – faith, family, work and community, and adapt them to the modern condition.”
This is the message of Christopher Rufo’s documentary, America Lost. The film explores the stories of three American towns: Youngstown, Ohio; Memphis, Tennessee; and Stockton, California. As Americans everywhere are struggling to adapt to the reality of the COVID-19 pandemic, stories such as those told in this film will only multiply.
In each town, the story is the same: after an economic boom due to a surge in industrial jobs, these towns have floundered in the post-industrial world. They have failed to make the transition and as a result, the middle class has disappeared, social institutions have fallen apart, and the residents are left struggling to survive.
Rufo paints a dire image: so many opioid overdoses that the county coroner can’t handle the bodies; streets taken over by gangs, drug and violence; fathers in prison and mothers left to raise their children on their own.
For many, “growing up in the environment makes you feel like you’ve been set up to fail.”
But Rufo isn’t interested in what each political party has done to try to alleviate poverty in such cities; he points out what they’ve failed to do. The top-down approach has focused on the economic elements – the unemployment and welfare situation, but that is only a small part of the equation. Rufo digs into the deeper issue: the loss of community, family, and faith relationships.
In these communities, people struggle to get through the day. Help from Washington or even state governments may be well-intentioned, but it’s not raising them out of poverty. Governments spend millions of dollars each year to fight poverty but these individuals are stuck in a cycle from which they see no escape, no matter how hard they try.
But despite all this pain and suffering, some are breaking the cycle. It’s not coming from government assistance, it’s transformation through the power of genuine human relationships. In the midst of this loss of community, there is regrowth, from the inside-out.
While the privileged outside may see religion as outdated or unneeded at best, America Lost shows that “faith-based organizations are still the cornerstones of poor communities.” A shared faith strengthens these communities and gives individuals a wake-up call to the responsibilities of family and community.
American Lost provides the powerful story of a forgotten class that has lost sight of the American dream. In contrast to many popular economic solutions, it points to the need for community and family as a foundation for life and source of joy. It argues that anyone, regardless of their socioeconomic level, can find meaning and happiness through work, family, faith and community.
Watch the film for yourself here.