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 Recession hits harder in places already ailing

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March Mellow

Join date : 2009-04-26
Posts : 209
Location : Char-Meck

Recession hits harder in places already ailing Empty
PostSubject: Recession hits harder in places already ailing   Recession hits harder in places already ailing EmptySat Jun 20, 2009 2:23 pm

Recession hits harder in places already ailing
In former textile towns like Burlington, veteran workers are forced to start over
By John Moreno Gonzales
Associated Press
Posted: Saturday, Jun. 20, 2009

BURLINGTON Tim Holt was among the men and women who wove fabric and prosperity here for generations, until the textile factories left town in a global manufacturing shift that the rest of the country hardly seemed to notice.

Fifty-one years old and pushing through his second federally funded job-training program in six years, he names the departed companies like a list of suspects.

Gold Toe, which introduced its durable socks during the Great Depression, found cheaper labor in Mexico. Culp Weaving, an upholstery giant that may have covered your parents' sofa, left for China. And the town's namesake, Burlington Industries, abandoned its sprawling compound after a 2001 bankruptcy, the remnants bought by the conglomerate International Textile Group but still vacant.

What most frustrates Holt and others in ailing industrial towns across the country is that their communities began their tailspin long before subprime mortgages failed and stocks plunged. And compared with places where the housing crisis has done most of the damage, their prospects for rebounding are dim.

According to the Associated Press Economic Stress Index, an exclusive county-by-county measurement of foreclosures, bankruptcies and unemployment that shows the relative impact of the recession, smaller industrial cities that were already reeling from decades of job losses have been among the hardest hit in the current economic crisis.

“We worked 40 or 50 years in textiles. Then, that was gone,” said Holt, whose retraining at a community college is designed to help workers displaced by the North American Free Trade Agreement.

The AP's analysis, which assigns each county a score from 1 to 100 with higher numbers reflecting the greatest stress from the recession, shows some of the heaviest impact in hardscrabble communities where the factories went quiet years ago.

In Burlington, a city of 50,000 two hours northeast of Charlotte, the tough times are measured not only by the loss of a steady paycheck, but by the strain it places on veteran workers trying to reinvent a career later in life.

“It really hurts your heart when you have a grown man in your office, who has worked all his life, crying,” said Tracy McKinney, an intake specialist at the Alamance County Department of Social Services who processes applications for public assistance.

Holt's classmate, Charles Andress, 61, is trying to avoid McKinney's desk as he balances the loss of a job he held for 25 years and obligations that he never expected to have as a grandfather. Andress was laid off from Culp Weaving in May 2007. His wife Brenda, 39, a former line supervisor at Gold Toe, lasted a year and half longer before her job was eliminated.

A March sampling of laid-off factory workers in the area found 44 percent had less than a high school diploma, 47 percent needed health care benefits and 33 percent needed mortgage or rental assistance. Last year, the county social services rolls – from foster care to Medicaid – increased 5 percent. This year, they are projected to increase another 13 percent.

“It's grown beyond our doors,” said Linda Allison, director of the Alamance County Department of Social Services, who helped form response teams to confront factory closures.

There are faint signs of a rebound. LabCorp, a medical sample testing company, has become the largest employer in town with 3,400 workers, and classes at Alamance Community College are crowded with students training for a career there.

Honda intends to build a new breed of light commercial jets in Burlington and hire 600 employees. It announced in April, however, that “global aerospace industry business challenges” will stall deliveries until the fourth quarter of 2011.

Burlington officials have sought $12million in federal stimulus money to pay for 50 job-creating infrastructure projects.

The Alamance County DSS funnels laid-off workers directly into retraining and counseling, and are designed to prepare them for careers at the growing industries. Textiles offered nearly three times as many jobs, but the new work can pay twice as well.

As he nears the end of his job training, Holt is concerned that he will have to swallow some pride. A friend who graduated from the same course in programmable electronic controllers – the mechanical brains of things from factory machinery to traffic lights – became a janitor at an interstate truck stop.

On the road to Carter's church, which he has attended for years, Holt passes the gleaming Honda plant that will play a role in Burlington's future.

“Every laid-off worker in North Carolina is going to apply there, me included,” Holt said.

“It can be done, but you're going to have to dig deep within yourself to do it. You felt like you were part of something, a vital part, now all of a sudden you're back at square one.”
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