The Rockford Files

This Is Your Hometown

About two years ago, I wrote a “Letter From Rockford” entitled “A Month in the Life of the Industrial Midwest” (April 2001), in which I used excerpts from news reports to illustrate the rather dramatic economic changes that were taking place in the Rockford area—plant closings, layoffs, declining wages.  At the time, I had no way of knowing, but the very month after the one that I had chosen to highlight—March 2001—has since been acknowledged by the federal government as the first month of the current recession, which may explain the number of phone calls, letters, and e-mails I received from readers across the country who said that, after reading the column, they had begun to notice similar news stories in their local media.  The hard times, it seemed, were not confined to Rockford or even to the Rust Belt.

Now, two years, a midterm election, a bear market, and a September 11th later, there are precious few signs that it is morn-ing again in America.  In fact, looking at the overall state of the economy, the most remarkable thing, perhaps, is how much discretionary spending continues to go on.  Very few chain restaurants have folded during this recession (locally owned restaurants, of course, are another story, but that’s true in every economic climate), and...

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