Tough times: Life inside the hardest hit county in the U.S.
Not long ago, Rowan County, NC was home to 31 millionaires, the highest per capita number in the entire country. Today it has earned a counter-distinction: Rowan has been hit harder by the recession than virtually any other place in the United States.
When the doors open at the local homeless shelter at 6 p.m., Kevin Parham, 47, is among those first in line. He has been laid off three times in five years, and suffered two heart attacks since he moved into the shelter a year and a half ago. He has been unable to land any kind of job.
“The thought of people living in their cars in my county takes my breath away,” said Kyna Foster, executive director of Rowan Helping Ministries, a collective of Christian churches that runs the shelter. Her organization has helped 23,000 families in the past three years, a figure that represents nearly half of this county’s 53,000 households. She took the job 18 months ago when she herself was laid off from a corporate job at Food Lion, a major grocer that was founded here in 1957 and helped generate its original wealth.
Rowan County is not the poorest in America, but it is among those that have experienced the most stunning loss during Barack Obama’s first term. Once a blue-collar county, Rowan has morphed into an unemployed one, where everything from federal stimulus money to state home loans to government retraining programs have failed to impede a deeper slide into poverty.
“Everything has been reset. Like we have to start all over again,” said Susan Kluttz, a Democrat who has served as mayor of Salisbury for seven terms, or 14 years.
From Free North Carolina