Poverty and Depression
A small town USA story 2016
In 2007, the world exploded when sub-prime mortgages tanked and died. Banks tanked and died, but the US government bailed out select institutions while others fell to the wayside or were assimilated into the giant fold of banks like Wells-Fargo. This is old news. You can google “2007 financial collapse” and get a swell Wikipedia page https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Financial_crisis_of_2007%E2%80%932008
In small rural communities, people still struggle to recover from the collapse. It’s probably a well-known phenomenon (this slow response to urban rapid change) — here in Beaufort County, NC, we’re still watching businesses fail. I believe the failure of small businesses to thrive in this town of 10K goes back to the housing crisis.
In 2006, retirees flocked to Washington, NC, scooping up 100+ year old houses at prices that amazed and confounded locals. Land values skyrocketed as did property taxes. The house across the street, tax value per-2006 around $45K slammed in at an unbelievable $100K. Our house, previously a tax value of $65K, zoomed up to $125 in 2008 without our doing any improvements and despite a collapsing garage roof due to our next door neighbor’s house burning almost to the ground. This burnt house remained next to ours when the tax assessors drove by to value homes on our street.
What we’re left with? The retirees left town, selling what they bought for $450 for less than $250. With them went their spending power, their financial support of the town. What we’re left with? Property taxes stuck at 2008 levels. Now that the city and the county are “used to” the income, no way they’re going to let go of it. Our yearly City/County taxes were around $800 annually in 2006, by 2009 we’re up to over $1,100.
This is a continuing topic with me. Not me bitching and moaning about my taxes but an evaluation of what happened to a town of 10,000 citizens when the banks collapsed. How it is still happening — like what’s going to be the fate of the Wells-Fargo bank that’s three blocks from my house? What’s going to happen to the small businesses opening downtown with the hope of grabbing some tourism dollars? Tourism dollars because the small manufacturing base this town was founded upon is gone. No more shirt factories, no more furniture companies, and the satellite businesses that supported the manufacturing concerns.
It is said that before the end of 1990s, a person could walk out of high school and into a job in Washington, NC. Imagine that. The small factories dotted the interior of the town. There’s an abandoned shirt factory one block from my house. The parking lot (huge concrete area) is used by the local community college as a training facility for its semi-truck driving classes. While that was fun for my grandsons to watch when they were four years old and loved BIG TRUCKS!, it’s no longer a spectator sport for this household. The windows of the factory are broken, someone’s idea of sport, and are now covered with plywood. There are abandoned buildings all over town, buildings that once housed the small manufacturing concerns that fed the larger ones.
There’s room here to comment on the killer of small manufacturing. The unspoken phrase (these days, it’s so common place no one knows it used to be controversial) JUST IN TIME manufacturing. JIT killed small businesses who were forced to inventory their good rather than sell them. I’ll get into that more when I discuss the multi-million dollar boondoggle that was the Kinston NC Airport.
I titled this Poverty and Depression. Why? If I can lay out what’s going on in this town, this county (35K pop), there’s a strong argument for why our Beaufort County Social Services is swamped with those in need, why our EBT card holders are at an all time high, and why Medicaid and Medicare expansion is necessary. Our Vidant Medical Center controlled health care system (see East Carolina University and Brody Medical School) staffs the local mental health facility with 2.5 therapists. The need for therapy is so great that the facility must contract with local therapists (not Vidant doctors and pyschologists) for care. They’re swamped… just like social services.
We live in poverty and depression here in this tiny town. We have our local homeless soldiers who sleep on front porches because they can’t stand to sleep indoors. We have no women’s shelter but there is a small facility run by a local Black church, that houses a couple dozen men each night. These men must walk the downtown area, or bike around town, all day as they wait for the doors to the shelter to open at 7pm. This need for social services causes a drain on the City/County budgets which must in turn be fueled and fed by property taxes. The cycle cannot stop until the economy, the rural economy, catches up with urban cycles. Since I see us just now hitting the depths of the 2007 crisis, I can’t see us digging out for another 10 years.