Flyover country

Harvester machine harvesting wheat.
Paper plane flying from a west coast city hub to an east coast city hub. (Please note that the coastal hubs don’t stretch this far inland in reality.)
Industrial worker overlooking a process where iron is being melted.
Map showing the United States’ fifty states. Alaska and Hawaii have been superimposed onto the map.

Inland United States is sometimes jokingly or dismissively referred to as flyover country. This is because all that east and west coast jetsetters do is fly over the area when shuttling between northeast United States and California. Still, learning about the inland gives you important keys to understanding America’s cultural identity beyond the narrow lens of Hollywood movies and New York skyscrapers.

The rust belt

To begin with, inland United States, or flyover country, is not an area with exact geographical boundaries. It does though, surely, include the so-called rust belt, which is a region situated around and east of the Great Lakes. The rust belt, during the 1900s, was home to large steel, coal and auto industries, which served as economic engines for many of the states surrounding the Great Lakes. However, a drop in production and increased automation in recent years have led to a scaling down of industrial operations here and relatively high unemployment. The joblessness, in turn, has prompted regional economic decline, some outmigration and a search for new economic opportunities. Nevertheless, despite the loss of industrial jobs, traditional working-class ideals continue to be praised in the rust belt, and any of the old industries that can be retained are kept for the good of local communities.

Farming

Beyond the industries of the rust belt, flyover country also includes large tracts of agricultural land where immense quantities of corn, soybeans and wheat are grown. From Texas all the way up to the Dakotas and down to the Great Lakes, in flyover country, farmers drive their tractors and harvest their crops. This agrarian work, though increasingly automated, requires manual labor, making the farmers relatable to the blue collar-workers of the rust belt, who also typically have physically demanding jobs. The same manual labor or physically demanding jobs, furthermore, to many people, characterizes working-class life in the United States, and therefore often stereotypically defines life in the inland regions.

Culture and identity

The inland region, though stereotypically defined as an area of farmers and industrial workers, of course, is home to people of all types. This diversity is well illustrated by the fact that there exist anything from aspiring country singers to highly educated millionaires in flyover country, and that quiet church-goers here shop in the same supermarkets as urban hipsters. Nonetheless, one of the true cultural identities of the inland region, just like the stereotype suggests, is being working-class. This identity, largely, has to do with the historical importance of farming and heavy industries in this area and the fact that workers here tend to not be as glued to computer screens as office staff in San Francisco and Washington D.C.