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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