It’s the economy, stupid.
That may have been the message from the 441 readers who participated in this year’s online poll for the top 10 local stories of 2009, according to The Register-Guard, Eugene, Ore.
Sure, the Rose Bowl-bound University of Oregon football team has provided a delicious diversion from the fiscal anxiety that has bedeviled Lane County residents these past 12 months.
Yes, controversy over when Eugene police should and should not use Taser stun guns has spurred a worthy community debate.
And it’s a good bet 2009 will be associated for a long time with a two-word medical prognosis: “swine flu.”
But for readers who know too well the realities of economic struggle — job loss, home foreclosures, wage freezes — there was really only one choice for the year’s top story: the recession.
It was a story that revealed itself in myriad ways — from record applications for food stamps to a suddenly common corporate coping strategy: putting workers on unpaid furloughs.
For several months, the unemployment rate in Lane County reached heights not known in decades — 12, 13, 14%. It was sometimes easy to forget the human equation in those percentages: It meant that at least one worker in every eight wasn’t working.
By year’s end, economists were declaring that the recession had ended, or was about to end, while acknowledging that the economy wasn’t strong enough — yet — to create many new jobs. Still, many felt there was reason to be optimistic about 2010.
The sour economy surfaced in other ways, too: The struggles of the local recreational vehicle industry in general, and Junction City-based Country Coach in particular, was judged the year’s No. 9 story. By year’s end, Country Coach was effectively defunct, while Monaco Coach Corp., once a high-flying publicly traded company based in Coburg, became a tiny division of a multinational corporation.
By October, 1,400 people in Lane County were working in the RV industry, a fraction of the 4,500 employed four years earlier.