Elkhart, Ind., “The RV Capital of the World,” again captured the national spotlight Friday (March 6) as the focus of a 10-minute feature on PBS’ The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer about the RV industry’s growing unemployment woes.
NewsHour economic reporter Paul Solman spoke with the extended family of laid-off Monaco Coach Corp. employee Ed Neufeldt who spoke last month during President Obama’s visit to Elkhart to pitch his now-approved economic stimulus package.
With visuals of closed factories and people standing in the unemployment line, Solman, who characterized the city of 53,000 as having a “backdrop of despair,” reported that six of Neufeldt’s family or inlaws are laid off and four others are under-employed. “There’s nothing around here,” said son-in-law Dan Galt. “There’s no jobs.”
“I’m slowly sinking from the middle class to the poor class,” said Neufeldt, a 13-year Monaco employee laid off last fall.
Lane David, an economist at Indiana University South Bend (Ind.), who owns a towable RV and whose wife wants to buy a motorhome, told Solman that there has been a snowball effect with regard to the crumbling economy.
“People’s expectations are very, very important to the functioning of the economy,” he said. “It could get worse just because people believe that it’s going to get worse.”
Asked whether he intends to buy the motorhome his wife wants, David said probably not. “The way the economy is right now, I’m not to excited about buying anything that I can’t pay cash for,” he said.
“Then you are part of the problem, aren’t you,” Solman told David, who agreed.
Mark Horita, president of Hy-Line Enterprises Holdings LLC, Elkhart, said the RV industry’s current malaise stems in part from the broken banking system.
“The banks simply won’t lend the money,” said Horita as workers busily assembled RVs in the background. “We’ve heard about people having an 800 FICO score and still not being able to get that purchase financed.”
Elkhart Mayor Dick Moore, who is looking for the Obama stimulus package to brace the city’s economy, said the community’s priority right now is “jobs, jobs, jobs.”
Neufeldt said the only way to turn around Elkhart’s 18.3% unemployment rate is to reopen the closed factories – including now bankrupt Monaco’s – that dot the Elkhart County landscape.
“We need a way to open that plant again and get 1,400, 1,500 people back to work,” he said.
Daughter Lori Galt said, “It doesn’t matter what they put in. People just want jobs.”