The Road Back To Work

A Journey Across America: NPR's Debbie Elliott and Richard Gonzales lead our reporting of the economy on the road.

 

In Katrina's Wake, New Orleans Enjoys Startup Boom()  

Sudhir Sinha's company, InnoGenomics, is one of hundreds of startups that call New Orleans home.

December 29, 2011 New Orleans has long been known as one of America's hardest luck cities, struggling over the years with poverty, crime, corruption and tragic disaster. But the city's darkest days have sparked a surprising new entrepreneurial spirit.

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In Camden, S.C., A Family Talks Race And Politics()  

Sisters Ernestyne James Adams (right) and Althea James Truitt are concerned about the economy and today's political climate.

December 24, 2011 Like other black Americans — considered the political base for President Obama — members of the close-knit Gaither-James family say racism is holding the nation back.

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Latinos Get Little Thanks For Rebuilding New Orleans()  

Methodist Pastor Oscar Ramos conducts English classes for Latino immigrants in New Orleans. The majority of the immigrants say they arrived after Katrina to work in construction and intend to stay.

December 10, 2011 Workers who helped reconstruct New Orleans after Katrina are putting down roots in the city. The construction jobs aren't as easy to get as they once were, and many immigrants report that employers sometimes don't pay them for their work.

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For Mill Town's Youth, 'It Can't Get Any Worse'()  

High school senior Jared Lyons (center), shown here with his parents, Kim and Bob, worries how he'll afford to achieve his dream of becoming a doctor. The economy, he says, "can't get any worse than it is now."

December 6, 2011 East Millinocket, Maine, used to be a booming paper mill town that offered residents what was basically a guaranteed ticket into the middle class. But today young people are scrambling to find a new path. "It's a little scary because it's going to be tough," says high school senior Jared Lyons.

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Steel Town Looks At Its Future, And Sees Rebirth()  

The old Granite City Steel Mill is now owned and operated by US Steel.

November 30, 2011 The Great Recession hit the industrial Midwest especially hard in recent years. Now, though, local leaders in at least one small Illinois city believe the worst is finally behind them. But they need to diversify — and attract new residents.

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Hard Times Inspire Ky. College Students To Action()  

Sophomore Emily Nugent is among Berea College's 1,600 students who receive free tuition. On average, Berea's students come from families with household incomes of about $25,000.

November 29, 2011 Berea College's 1,600 students come from low-income households, and sophomore Emily Nugent says they "know about the challenges Americans are facing." Inspired by their own diverse backgrounds, they're taking up causes like standing with the newly poor, helping immigrants or embracing their heritage.

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Art Therapy Nonprofit Improvises In New Economy()  

Mario Barela stands next to the supplies he uses for his percussion class. He teaches the fundamentals of drumming to children in a Phoenix domestic violence shelter.

November 26, 2011 The dismal economy has taken a toll on nonprofits. Donations are down. One nonprofit, Free Arts of Arizona, which uses art as therapy for the children of abused women, has had to make layoffs and budget cuts.

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Economy Mutes Louisville Record Shop()  

Timmons browses the racks of his now-closed business. The record store will have a final clearance sale on Nov. 29.

November 22, 2011 John Timmons recently closed ear X-tacy, a record store he'd owned for 26 years. "People have priorities, and music is just not a top priority right now. That's what's really taken its toll on us," he says. Now, Timmons has to figure out what to do with the rest of his life.

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When Hard Times Means Leaving Career For Job()  

After a long job search, Alice Eastman, a once highly paid professional, now works at Target. "I've climbed to pretty much the top of the one ladder, and now I'm starting at the bottom rung of a different ladder. It's a job. It's not a career," she says.

November 17, 2011 Alice Eastman, a single mother living in Wheaton, Ill., tried to make ends meet on unemployment while she hunted for a job in her field after being laid off in 2010. After a long, fruitless search, Eastman, a once highly paid professional, took a minimum-wage job at Target.

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Big Sky Country Has Lots Of Room For Optimism()  

Billings, Mont., has a diverse economic base, as evidenced by the confluence of stockyards, oil refineries and natural beauty. The unemployment rate for Billings' Yellowstone County was 5.3 percent in September, far lower than the national average.

November 13, 2011 Billings, Mont., has its share of natural resources. But residents attribute their ability to weather the economic storm to a diversification of services beyond oil — like agriculture, financial services and health care. "It's just a great day here in Billings," says a leader of a new library project.

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Reduced Wages At Maine Mill Divide Town()  

Katahdin Paper Co. in East Millinocket, Maine, in 2005. The mill shut down in the spring but reopened under new ownership last month.

November 10, 2011 Though some in East Millinocket, Maine, are thrilled the town's paper mill is open again, many are unhappy with what the jobs are paying. But for every resident riled up about the lower wages, there seems to be another who is infuriated at those who dare complain.

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Alabama's 'Rocket City' Hopes For Another Boom()  

In 1962, President John Kennedy (center) and Vice President Lyndon Johnson visited Dr. Wernher von Braun (left), who designed the Saturn rocket in Huntsville, Ala.

November 10, 2011 Huntsville is the shining star in Alabama's economy. Scientists there designed the rockets that put man on the moon. In the past 50 years, it's become a magnet for high-tech space and defense jobs. But with NASA downsizing and the specter of defense cuts looming, Huntsville finds itself in limbo.

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Miss. Couple Lament Loss Of The American Dream()  

Norris and Janis Galatas at their home in Collinsville, Miss., with their horse, Cinnamon. The couple is struggling to make their mortgage payments.

November 1, 2011 Norris and Janis Galatas had planned to be settled at middle age. But then Norris got wounded in Iraq and Janis lost her job. They're barely squeaking by, and they feel like the middle class has been left behind. "It's sad that the American dream is not even realistic anymore," Norris says.

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Calif. County Yearns For 'The Way It Used To Be'()  

Craig and Linda Black sit at a table in the yard of their home in Vacaville, Calif. They are desperately trying to hang on to their home after falling behind on their mortgage payments.

November 1, 2011 Solano County, Calif., between San Francisco and Sacramento, has a great climate, diversity and until recently, stable neighborhoods. But now it has the second-highest foreclosure rate in the country. Residents here long for different economic times, like when they were growing up.

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NPR's 'Hard Times' Series Reporters Begin Journey()  

October 30, 2011 NPR has been reporting on the country's tough economic times for years, but in November, two reporters take the story on the road. Starting this week, correspondents Debbie Elliott and Richard Gonzales begin reporting for the NPR series Hard Times: A Journey Across America..

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A Hard-Times Journey: Where Should NPR Go?()  

Thumbtacks on a map.

October 19, 2011 America has always come back from hard times. Is this time different? NPR will soon explore the country to hear from people about their experiences in this economy. Help us plan our trip. Tell us what stories you want to hear and where you think we ought to go.

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