5.6. The Midwest, 1965-Present: The Age of Autonomy


Population (1000s), rank

1970

(50 states)

1990

(50 states)

2010

(50 states)

Ohio

10,657

6th

10,847

7th

11,537

7th

Indiana

5,195

11th

5,544

14th

6,484

15th

Illinois

11,110

5th

11,431

6th

12,831

5th

Michigan

8,882

7th

9,295

8th

9,884

8th

Wisconsin

4,418

16th

4,892

16th

5,687

20th

Iowa

2,825

25th

2,777

30th

3,046

30th

Minnesota

3,806

19th

4,375

20th

5,304

21st

Total population

% of US pop.

 

46,893

 

23.1%

 

49,161

 

19.8%

    

54,773


17.7%


Key events that shaped law and culture:

  • The 1960s and 1970s were the most turbulent period of American social history since the Civil War.  Dramatic changes in civil rights for blacks and women took place along with a host of less publicized changes.  Some Americans welcomed the changes but many reacted against them, and that conflict continues to shape American political divisions today.
  • The central theme of the modern era, as articulated by legal historian Lawrence Friedman, is a culture of the “self,” of “freedom to shape one’s own life, expressive freedom, freedom of personality,” as contrasted with earlier eras in which freedom was defined primarily as economic freedom.  Midwest lawmakers have followed this theme, which is reflected in many modern legal reforms including no-fault divorce, liberalization of free speech, and increased legal rights for women and gay people.
  • At the same time, paradoxically, American states have moved more in unison in adopting legal reforms than ever before.  Many modern legal reforms, such as no-fault divorce; school vouchers and increased home schooling; and the elimination of barriers to suing spouses, charities and local governments, have been consistent with the era’s central theme of increased individual autonomy.   The Midwest has also participated fully in this trend.
  • The Midwest’s modern era has been marked by a struggle against economic decline.  The Arab oil embargo of 1973 and the ability of Pacific Rim nations to make high-quality goods while taking advantage of low labor costs, triggered a sharp decline in Michigan’s auto industry and other manufacturing industries throughout the Midwest.  With a few exceptions, most parts of the Midwest clung to traditional industries and were slow to adapt to the new “high tech” economy, driven by the rise of personal computers, that began in the late 1980s.  But the region may be experiencing an upturn:  two of its key resources, crops and abundant supplies of fresh water, are increasingly in demand in the United States and worldwide.


Modern Chicago skyline


Barn and silo, Ankeny, Iowa (both pictures courtesy Wikimedia Commons)