Maybe I shouldn't have been surprised. But, I was. In almost every case, tiny little rural havens in places called Broome, Middleburgh and Cairo (no, I wasn't in Egypt) were completely lifeless. Most only showcased dilapidated houses and barns. Some were actually burnt out and others had scores of abandoned trailers (and many dead farms, as well). It was truly sad and quite depressing. Our eyes were glued to the scenery that looked like something from a Great Depression movie. And, our mouths were wide open as we just sat in disbelief.
When we finally found a town that had a suitable coffee house (and, that wasn't easy), we pulled over to grab a quick bite. I struck up a brief conversation with a nice waitress about the communities surrounding this area. She was quick to point out that over the last two years, maybe 35-40 percent of farms and homes in the area were foreclosed on. She also said that "the good people in these areas are scrambling like never before to just put food on their kitchen tables. Welfare stamps have become more of a normal staple of life versus what was once the exception."
With the exception of Cooperstown (which is beautiful and prospers for obvious reasons), the statistics support what this friendly waitress said. Greene County (one of the major areas we traveled through) has an unemployment rate of almost 15 percent, way above the national average. I read an article from the regional newspaper up here that showed families are picking up and leaving for towns and cities where employment chances fare better.
It's hard to blame them. These people clearly haven't seen or felt any benefits of the administration's economic stimulus plan. And, I truly wonder if it's too late for their communities because of it.
From time to time, I complain about paying too high taxes, or receiving too few small business benefits in these tough economic times. But, this experience has put it all in perspective for me. I've got nothing to moan about when so many are living in complete crisis mode.
Let's hope some combination of an improving economy and many more stimulus dollars reach these small towns in the near future. They are the ones who really need our help.