Coming home to a Michigan county where life has changed

“A lot of what we feared ended up happening. I saw our manufacturers disappear,” said Barcia, who voted against both in the House. “When Trump talked about trade, it really hit home with working families.”

With fewer jobs with benefits in traditional industries like autos, many people are working multiple jobs just to get by, a grueling working-class calculation to put together enough work to pay rent and bills. Of the five most common occupations in Bay County, only one — a registered nurse — costs an average of more than $25,000 a year. Manufacturing is not in the top five.

“I don’t know anyone who doesn’t have two or three jobs or a side gig,” said Kim Coonan, the owner of Coonan’s Irish Hub, a neighborhood restaurant and bar down the street from the GM Powertrain plant, a backbone of the city since it started making parts for Chevrolet in 1916. “The middle class is gone.

Recently, there has been talk of more layoffs. Most stores in the Bay City Mall have closed. Downtown is dotted with empty storefronts, between restaurants and condominiums that reflect nascent efforts to remake the waterfront city as a destination.

There aren’t many Trump signs or MAGA hats visible here. Still, there is evidence of quiet support for Mr Trump for his willingness to take on China, though the results have been mixed. Support for workers runs so deep that what is said behind closed doors is often different from what is said in public, making political opinion difficult to gauge. “People wear masks here,” said a business executive, who asked not to be identified by name.

An exception to this rule: the farmers of the region, who proudly support the president. “In my group of friends, I don’t know anyone who won’t support Trump,” said Brian Johnson, who this year took over the family farm in Pinconning, north of Bay City. He received $80,000 in federal compensation for lost soybean sales to China last year, an amount he says saved him from financial disaster. For now, it seems that people who are lucky enough to have a job — and only one job — think more about politics than others.

Jeffrey Bulls works at Nexteer, a Chinese company that has acquired Saginaw Steering Gear, an automotive supplier and symbol of the transition to a new world economic order. Bought by the bankrupt Chinese in 2009, it now employs around 12,000 people, down from 20,000 at its peak. Mr Bulls has started a podcast in his spare time, “Independent Jeff”, which focuses on issues that concern African-American voters. “We’re too taken for granted,” Mr Bulls said.

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