The jobs started disappearing into thin air.
Monaco RV company abruptly shut its doors July 17, 2008 and, in a day, 1,400 Elkhart County workers became 1,400 signs that economic stability was crumbling.
By October of the same year, The New York Times took notice of the local economic situation and dubbed Elkhart “the white-hot center of the meltdown of the American economy” because of the swift rise in unemployment between December 2007 and September 2008, according to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics numbers.
Almost overnight, Elkhart County became the poster child for the Great Recession that was taking hold of the nation.
Local leaders wrung their hands. Even President Obama, only just sworn in to his first term, made Elkhart County his first visit as president in February 2009, to push for his economic stimulus plan.
Shipments of recreational vehicles, the lifeblood of the local economy, fell. Then they plummeted.
Local unemployment numbers catapulted skyward, maxing out at 20.2 percent in March 2009 and, for all of 2009, at 17.9 percent.
Stories of hardship, homelessness, cutting corners, fruitless job searches and home foreclosures became the norm.
Officially, the Great Recession lasted from December 2007 to June 2009. That means Elkhart County and the rest of the nation marked the fifth anniversary of the end of the recession on July 1, 2014.
It’s been five years and everyone seems hopeful for a return to normalcy. But we still anxiously wait for each monthly report on job numbers. It begs the question: Have we recovered? Five years later, how are we different — and how are we the same?
Several Elkhart Truth reporters are spending 2014 answering those questions.
The first installment in the three-part project examines the first half of 2014 through individual stories of triumph and struggle, and takes a closer look at what the local and national data tells us about the current health of our economy.
The next installment, to come out in the fall, will look back at how individuals, businesses, schools and governments responded when the economy collapsed.
The final part will anticipate what our future could hold. Who do we want to become? And perhaps more pressing, how do we get there?
OVERVIEW: Unemployment, food banks, wages and more