More stories from the recession

As the worst recession in a quarter-century continues to unfold, insightful and moving stories of its impact on individuals, families, communities, and organizations are appearing regularly in the media. Periodically, we are using this space to call attention to notable national and local stories that we think deserve a wide audience.

Sunday’s New York Times magazine cover story explored the devastating impact that the collapse of the U.S. automobile industry is having on the Black middle class in Detroit and surrounding areas. Since the 1930s, the Big Three automobile companies have provided a ladder to the middle-class for tens of thousands of African Americans in Detroit and surrounding areas, offering high-paying blue-collar jobs and the opportunity to become homeowners and send their children to good schools and colleges. Now, plant closures, layoffs and buyouts in the auto sector are leaving these workers without jobs, at risk of losing their homes, and struggling to avoid losing hope. Writing of Marvin Powell, a 13-year GM assembly-line worker who earns $28/hr at a plant in Pontiac that is set to shut down before the end of this year, author Jonathan Mahler asks:

What if you were 38 and had spent the last 12 years doing one thing for a company and an industry that allowed your predecessors to escape the Jim Crow South, that gave generations of black workers a shot at dignity and their rightful place in the American middle class, that allowed you to buy a decent home in a neighborhood right next door to white families who had fled your city years before? Maybe it wasn’t the job you dreamed of when you were 20, but it was what you did and what your father did and what you and almost everyone around you knew, and it had never failed you before. What would you do? How would you prepare for the loss of all that?

Meanwhile, this excellent story in the Oklahoma Observer by OU Journalism student Melissa Morgan looked at the City Rescue Mission homeless shelter in downtown Oklahoma City. The article notes that women with children are the fastest-growing demographic group among homeless Americans today, having increased by 51 percent in the past year. Morgan described 34 children from the Rescue Mission participating in an Easter Egg Hunt and quoted Tiffany Webb, the Mission’s public relations director:

“We are heartbroken to see this many children need services at the mission; however, if they come, we want them to receive all the services they can to help them out of the situation without a sense of chaos and worry,” Webb said.

The story notes that job losses and rising foreclosure rates are among the main causes for increased homeless populations, along with chronic factors related to domestic violence, mental illness and trauma, and affordable housing issues. (The Homeless Alliance of Oklahoma and National Center on Family Homelessness offer substantial information on homelessness issues, as well as policy proposals and ways to get involved. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act provided $1.5 billion for homelessness prevention efforts, of which Oklahoma’s share is $8.2 million. You can get information on Oklahoma’s plans for these funds from the state Department of Commerce website).

For earlier blog posts spotlighting excellent reporting on the  impact of the economic downturn on families and safety net providers, click here and here.


Former Executive Director David Blatt joined OK Policy in 2008 and served as its Executive Director from 2010 to 2019. He previously served as Director of Public Policy for Community Action Project of Tulsa County and as a budget analyst for the Oklahoma State Senate. He has a Ph.D. in political science from Cornell University and a B.A. from the University of Alberta. David has been selected as Political Scientist of the Year by the Oklahoma Political Science Association, Local Social Justice Champion by the Dan Allen Center for Social Justice, and Public Citizen of the Year by the National Association of Social Workers.

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