Frontline: Left Behind America

Tuesday, September 11, at 10pm on ThinkTV16

In the decade since the Great Recession, many American cities and towns have bounced back. But for some small and mid-size cities that were once hubs for innovation and manufacturing, economic recovery has remained elusive.

In the documentary Left Behind America, FRONTLINE and ProPublica take an in-depth look at one such city, Dayton, Ohio, as its citizens continue to fight for economic revitalization ten years after the financial crisis. The documentary chronicles the lives and struggles of Dayton’s working poor as they chase the American dream in the new American economy.

Although Dayton’s job market has recently seen a resurgence, the jobs coming back to the city aren’t the high-wage jobs that used be there – and the poverty rate in Dayton has reached 34.5 percent, or nearly three times the poverty rate nationwide.

The film shows, in cities like Dayton – where many businesses that once employed thousands of people have shut down or moved elsewhere –  part-time, low-wage work rather than full-time work with benefits has often become the new normal. And as a result, many families struggle to survive.

As Left Behind America explores, in addition to the economic downturn, the city has also been hit hard by the opioid epidemic. By early 2017, county coroner Dr. Kent Harshbarger was seeing so many overdose deaths that he was worried Montgomery County, which includes Dayton, would end up leading the nation in fatal opioid overdoses per captia.

But despite the obstacles, many Dayton citizens are taking matters into their own hands — and focusing not just on surviving, but thriving. Left Behind America is the intimate story of one Rust Belt city’s struggle to recover in the post-recession economy — and an up-close look at how that struggle presents a challenge to us all. 

If you have questions about this program, you can email Frontline at frontline@pbs.org or jwiener@thinktv.org.