What is the Rust Belt?
And why is it important?

The characters in Sweat live inside The Rust Belt: A region of the US that has experienced huge declines in manufacturing jobs since the 1980s.  

The term "Rust Belt" comes from the large abandoned industrial plants that rust over time.  

There’s some wordplay here, too...these regions “rust” in a metaphorical way too, with drops in population, emergence of urban decay, and economic decline.   

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Entry Point

The shrinking of the middle class has been in the news for many decades. Ask students to pair up and discuss what they have read, seen, or thought about this topic. Do they think it is important? How has it affected their family? How has it affected the community around them?

 

 And is it killing the American Dream for your generation?

The (De)Industrial Revolution

You may have heard of the Industrial Revolution, which saw the rise of factories and jobs. It even influenced the way your school is set up.

But what happens when the revolution comes crashing down? When the factories close or move, the jobs go, too.   

  

Communities form around manufacturing plants, and local businesses support the plant.  So when a plant is at risk of closing, it is not just the jobs at the plant that are in jeopardy- the entire community is at risk

Food for thought: What industries are your community based around? What happened if they went away? 

Cheat Sheet: Key Terms in Sweat
How Much $$?

It can be a struggle in the Rust Belt to stay above the poverty line. As you can see in the chart below, some families in the play that are middle class in 2000 with Union jobs are unemployed or working multiple gigs to stay afloat in 2008.

Look at how the characters in the play are affected:

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Classroom Activity: Cost of Living

Steps: 

  1. Ask students to pick a profession that they could see themselves doing and that makes them proud. 

  2. Ask students to pick the area in which they would like to live as an adult. 

  3. Google the average salary for that profession in the area/state.

  4. Ask students to calculate their take home pay based on location and profession. You can use an online calculator such as this one from ADP.

  5. Ask students to explore expenses based on their desired location. Use a cost of living calculator such as this one to compare cities other than yours.

  6. Guide students in building a simple budget based on their expectations. Here's a great resource.

  7. Ask students to share what they learned. Considering a job that would make you happy, how much do you need to make? Where can you afford to live? What would the required education cost you? 

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Objective: Students gain a better understanding of the cost of living for their desired neighborhood.