If Elkhart County, Ind., was the symbol of the recession, then Ed Neufeldt became the face of the unemployed worker.
According to an NPR report, Neufeldt introduced President Obama at a town hall meeting at Concord High School in February 2009. It was Obama’s first big trip in office. At the time, Elkhart had the dubious distinction of having the highest unemployment rate in the country, bumping up against 20%.
It was the recreational vehicle capital of the world, except no one was buying RVs.
Neufeldt wore a suit he borrowed from his brother-in-law as he and Obama walked on stage together. Neufeldt was nervous; his pastor had come over the night before to pray to give him strength. As the crowd chanted “Obama, Obama,” the president turned to Neufeldt and said “go ahead.” He had to say it three times.
Obama was there to promote the $800 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. $170 million in stimulus money would go to Elkhart County, according to ProPublica.
Fast Forward To Today
Six years later, Neufeldt, 68, is behind the wheel of a Kia, driving around Elkhart County.
Before the crash, Neufeldt and thousands of others reported for work before dawn in these big warehouses, building RVs. As the recession hit, a number of major employers went bankrupt.
Gus Feiler’s company, Williamsburg Furniture, makes couches, sleeper sofas and captain’s chairs for RVs.
“We lost 75% of our volume overnight,” says Feiler, sitting in his office. “It was not a recession — it was a damned depression.”
He went from 140 employees to 40, and the ones who were left took huge pay cuts. Feiler says he refinanced everything he could just to keep the doors open.
“Those of us that were lucky enough to survive, we’re back,” says Feiler, not quite smiling.
In Elkhart, there’s a mantra: the RV industry is the first to feel a recession and the first to recover.
For the full story click here.