Northern Indiana Amish Economy

The ‘RV Amish’ of Northern Indiana could be considered among the ‘fastest’ of all Amish.  There are a few reasons why.

With a majority of household heads traditionally working in non-Amish RV factories, Amish in Elkhart/Lagrange Counties and around the town of Nappanee have been more exposed to the ‘world’ than in settlements with most Amish working the fields or holed up in Amish-owned shops.   Many have gotten used to taking home paychecks in the range of $1000-$1200/week or more.  Coupled with a low-overhead traditional lifestyle this means a large disposable income.  Northern Indiana is also among the most notorious when it comes to youth Rumspringa activity, perhaps a result of being tied more closely with the world through the RV industry.

An article in the Indianapolis Star, which does a nice job reviewing a local economic slowdown that has existed for most of the past year and arguably a good bit longer, describes Amish struggles with being laid off and searching for new forms of employment.

The article outlines the lifestyle impact on the Amish, describing one Amishman as previously ‘living large’, with weekly restaurant trips as well as out-of-state vacations.  Though I’d take issue with the assertion in the piece that “travel to the Grand Canyon and California by airplane and in rented vans with professional drivers was common”–with the airplane bit of it, especially–a lifestyle like the one ascribed to this Amishman is/was not uncommon.  Getting laid off has meant a change of habits and has also forced many to be creative in developing new streams of income.

This has meant a move into business for some.  In a previous post on the Northern Indiana Amish I speculated on the possible shift into business in this settlement, a phenomenon which has occurred on a large scale in similar-sized settlements such as Holmes County and Lancaster but which has largely passed the northern Indiana Amish by, mainly due to the ready availability of employment in factories.  Anecdotal information seems to indicate that entrepreneurship has begun to blossom, though a bounceback in the RV industry may smother that in time. Among other businesses found in this community are repair shops, dry goods stores, and woodworking businesses (view a directory of Indiana Amish furniture).

As Goshen College professor Steven Nolt notes in the article, “nowhere in U.S. Amish history has a down economy affected the Amish so much,” calling the current period “a pivotal time.”  The impact of the RV downturn on these Amish will be interesting to follow.

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    1. That was quite interesting. My husband and I actually watched a documentary on the teenagers and Rumspringa of Northern Indiana. it was very eye opening how different it was than other areas.

    2. When we went to Jamesport, MO, last summer when gas prices were so high, they were discussing how they were suffering as well because people just weren’t traveling as much. We may be “outsiders” but they definitely need us for their economy. The gift shops were suffering, the little hotels, etc. We found many multi-taskers – owning a deer farm AND running a bulk food shop; selling dogs AND having a furniture shop; etc.

      The difference I found appealing actually was that they didn’t sit around and gripe about it (well, maybe in private they did), but they dug their heels in and kept on keeping on. It was what it was and they were doing what they could about it. When talking to them, their attitude was more of, “Yep, this happens sometimes.” I can’t help but feel for them though.

    3. Amish are definitely plugged in to the economy, and in more ways than a generation or two back.

      there is a lot of entrepreneurial energy to be unleashed in the typical Amish community and I expect that is what will continue to happen…

      the drop in gas prices has been a giant economic boon to the consumer that it seems is little remarked upon in the media…though we have a recession we also have a good chunk of cash that is staying in the wallet and out of the tank, at least compared to one year ago, and which of course impacts the prices of many other consumer goods…though it looks like gas is creeping back up these days…

      Michelle that was perhaps Devil’s Playground?

    4. thinking

      I think the economic down turnis the best thing to happen to the Amish since they came here.

      The Amish (US as a whole) have since the 1960s (especially starting in the late 1970s) lived off a fake economy. America has only been able to finance new shopping centers, malls, outlets because of foreign capital. Probably at least 50% of all business in America needs capital. Over the past 2 years capital as dryed up, and other nations ave been less willing to give it to us, they’ve also less willing to continue to by dollars and fund debt.

      Since the 1960s especially since the late 197s we’ve been living in a false economy, being able to buy everything we wanted, not having to worry about the neighborhood, and we became self centered.

      In the US case we’ve allowed open borders, we turned away from traditions, we became self centered, more greedy, and cared less about our loved ones, and the culture of our nation. The same has occured with the Amish, many have forgotten how to live rough, many have forgotten the importance of community, you can see it in the less conservative Amish who adopt non-German children.

      This down turn in the economy is a permanent down turn. The economy is not going to recover to pre-2007 levels. It can’t, because the economy from 1979 to 2007 has been almost entirley financed by other nations, that’s fact. Anyone who thinks we are going to return to pre-2007 levels are fulling themselves.

    5. Tom Kaminski

      When I go to Shipshewana and Lagrange I have always thought that for most Amish living there that they were way too tied in to commercialism/consumerism compare to the group/s by where I live in Michigan…

      Like the rest of now they need to regroup and re-think their priorites…

    6. MA

      Thinking, why should adopting non-German children be a deterrent to community? Hopefully you’re not in bondage to the Calvinistic notion, like some Amish (they wouldn’t admit it to your face though), that the Amish and people of German background are racially superior and are predestined to be God’s children? I know an Old Order Mennonite church that has members of at least two other ethnicities (Native American and Hispanic), and they make out just fine. If the community ethic is based in biblical love and mutual respect, the colour of skin shouldn’t be a problem in the least.

    7. thinking

      [quoteThinking, why should adopting non-German children be a deterrent to community? Hopefully you’re not in bondage to the Calvinistic notion, like some Amish (they wouldn’t admit it to your face though), that the Amish and people of [quote]German background are racially superior and are predestined to be God’s children?[/quote]————————–
      Because if they adopt non-Germans then they won’t be considered Amish any more, they minus well be considered something else.

      I find it funny that a group of people which does not allow missionary because it’s against the Bible, decides to adopt non-German children. Is that not missionary considering those children may adopt the Amish ideology.

      My own beliefs aside.

      You sould not be allowed to adopt children if you are in a strict athnic/religous community, because then those kid may grow up to be Amish as well, which would be considerd brainwashing and racism. If you want to brainwash your own kids thats ok, but don’t go stealing other peoples children, unless you are adopting yourown ethnic group.

      [quote]I know an Old Order Mennonite church that has members of at least two other ethnicities (Native American and Hispanic), and they make out just fine.[quote]
      I don’t know any Old Order which does that, but I do know many liberal Amish who can bearly afford their own 6 kids, who adopt 2 others kids from other races, even though they can bearly afford their own.

      The Amish speak German, dress German, practice traditional German culture, and read a Bible with old German words, which they can’t even understand.

      If these liberal Amish could actually read the old German bible which they proclaim to know, they would know the Old German bible clearly is against mixings of ethnic groups, let alone of races.

      I think these Amish need to convert their Martin Luther bibles and translate it into Standard German, this way they can read it proper. You can’t claim to be a Christian who follows the bible of “Martin Luther”(which they do), then race mixs, because Martin Luther was probably the biggest Nazi before Nazism, also considering Hitler and Nazi Germany followed many of the teachings of Martin Luther.

      [quote]If the community ethic is based in biblical love and mutual respect, the colour of skin shouldn’t be a problem in the least.[/quote]
      First of all race mixing is a sin, infact race mixing is a force used by the Devil. God made all races equally, he also made all races separate, if he wanted us to all look the same he would have created one ethnic group, but he didn’t. I see no reason in destroying what God created.

      Well of all the Amish, probably less then 3% are of non-German stock, most the non-German Amish who get adopted leave the Amish community. As I have not seen any non-German Amish past 18 years old still in the community, they mostly leave and become mennonites, or leave religion completely, from what I have seen. Old Oder Amish do not convert non-Amish.

      You speak of Hispanic and Native American Amish? Most likely those you speak were not Old Oder Amish, they were Mennonites, or very liberal Amish like the Beachy Amish.

      I lived around Amish my life and I noticed many non-Germans get adopted into Amish life, many adopted do not stay Amish and leave.

      I have not seen one real Old Oder Amish date a non-German or produce mixed kids. I have seen a few mennonites mixs with non-Germans a few Italians.

    8. thinking

      Posted to: MA

      Anyway’s we can agree to disagree, you think it’s ok that they allow non-Germans thats your opinion. I am not yet worried about the Amish being swamped with non-Germans because:

      For one very few outsiders become or are aloud to become Amish.

      Number two reason is because Amish have high birth rates, extremely higher then any other American demographics, besides other religious groups like Fundamentalist Mormons, Hutterites, Orthodoxs Jews, Russian Old believers, Native American tradionalist, and Old order Mennonites.

      Number 3 the adoption of non-Germans seem to be limited to liberal Amish and especially mennonites. I’ve have yet to see any of these adopted children stay with the Amish faith once they get a chance to leave or stay.

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