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When I set out to report a book on the problem of growing regional inequality in America, I did not expect that it would involve spending several hours on a cold winter day standing inside a large dumpster.
But there I was, helping a man named Keith Taylor toss all manner of trash from a giant receptacle to reach the treasure buried below: hundreds of bricks from the demolished headquarters of the sprawling Bethlehem Steel plant on Sparrows Point peninsula outside Baltimore.
Mr. Taylor, who started working at the plant in 1989 and spent the next 11 years there, wanted the bricks as part of his effort to reclaim the heritage of Sparrows Point. In the 1950s, Beth Steel, as locals call it, was the largest steel plant in the world, a dense skyline of chimneys and coal chutes abutted by a company town then home to more than 5,000 people.
Mr. Taylor planned to use the bricks for a new lighted walkway at Sparrows Point High School. I was there because I had come to see Sparrows Point as emblematic of the transformation of the U.S. economy over the past few decades and the gaping regional divides that this transformation had produced.