NPR's 'Hard Times' Series Reporters Begin Journey

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Millions of Americans are hurting financially, and they're worried about their future.

Fourteen million people are unemployed, and millions more are realizing that the jobs and the income and the home values they once had may never come back.

NPR has been reporting these stories for years, but in November, two reporters take the story on the road.

Veteran correspondents Debbie Elliott, who's based in Alabama, and Richard Gonzales of NPR's San Francisco bureau, will spend the month reporting from places we don't often visit, telling the stories of people we don't often hear from.

With the 2012 election one year away, Elliott hopes to learn more from everyday people in small towns and communities across America. "What are people thinking about? How are they living? How are they coping?" she tells Weekend Edition host Audie Cornish. "What are they thinking about when they are looking to next year's election? What are the issues that are important to them? How are they surviving in this economy?"

Gonzales tells Cornish that he will be listening for their hopes and aspirations: "What gets them out of bed in the morning even when we're in such tough times and when perhaps they and their friends and family may be really struggling?"

Gonzales begins his journey not far from home — in Silicon Valley, where the economy is still very strong. As part of his report, he'll also visit California's Solano County, which ranks second in the country for foreclosures.

Elliott's first report is on a wounded warrior in Meridian, Miss., who is only 49 but finds himself in early retirement from the Army because of injuries he suffered in Iraq. The soldier and his family are struggling to live on less than half of his salary. "They're disappointed because they feel like their interests aren't being served in this political and economic climate," Elliott says.

The stories kick off the series this week.

Throughout the month, Elliott and Gonzales will visit places and talk to people suggested by NPR listeners and readers, who submitted story ideas at NPR.org, on Facebook and on Twitter.

Thanks to a reader's suggestion, Elliott will report from Huntsville, Ala. The city had been a mecca for engineers working on NASA programs, but it is now hurting because of job cuts in the space industry.

"So far we've had a tremendous response — close to 1,000 responses — from almost every state," Gonzales says. "And we're always open to more ideas."

So readers, among the ways you can help us plan our trip, consider where Elliott and Gonzales should meet up to wrap up the series. Some have suggested that since the two are headed toward the middle of the country, they meet along the Mississippi.

Let us know where you think they should go and also tell us what stories you want to hear along the way using the form below.

And as the series unfolds, you can follow @NPRhardtimes on Twitter.

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