Friday, April 17, 2009

The Declining Economy: Is Any One Recession-Proof?

My award winning recession story... I wrote this for school and the press of AC! :P

You finally have the American dream: A family, a good job and a house. You think you’re safe from the recession. Well, think again. What appears to be secure today could be gone tomorrow. The working middle class is only one group out of many that has become impaired because of our turbulent economy. Many senior citizens, singles, recently divorced people and even business owners are now hitting rough patches in their lives. These are the people you’d never expect to be in a needy situation. For the first time in their lives, many of these individuals are asking for help.

“Recently, I met a construction worker who couldn’t find work” says Ann Hartmann, president of the Tuckerton Area Inner Church Food Pantry, “He was a strapping guy...I never would have thought someone like him would need help.” Conversely, these are just the type of people Hartmann now sees on a regular basis.

“I’m the jack of all trades” says Hartmann, who has worked at the Pantry for over fifteen years. Hartmann runs the daily operations of the Pantry and organizes the volunteers. The pantry began in a local garage and now helps people from Eagleswood to New Gretna. Today, a tiny blue shed next the Little Egg Harbor recreation center is the home base for the pantry. “Space is troublesome in all food pantries…there’s just not enough of it,” says Hartmann. For much needed space, the pantry utilizes storage at a local churches and the VFW.

The pantry, which represents ten local churches, is open to anyone needing assistance. Volunteers screen applicants but don’t have the resources or time for background checks; they simply hope people are honest. The pantry is only open for ten hours a week but helps nearly 300 families a month. “The amount of people in need has been escalating in the past few months,” says Hartmann “One day recently we had twenty-four families come in.” Hartmann says that the rise in needy people is definitely due to the declining economy. According to The State of New Jersey’s website, unemployment rates are on the rise. In September, 6% of New Jersey’s population was unemployed. CNN puts New Jersey at the top of its Unemployment by State list.

Although, money is short for many people, kindness is not. The pantry has an abundance of volunteers. Over fifty people volunteer their time to make boxes for needy families. These boxes, which families receive twice a month, include staples like, bread, milk and chicken. There is no shortage of food on the shelves (and floors) of the pantry either. Thanks to food drives and generous donations by local residents, the pantry has more than enough food right now.

Why do so many people need assistance? US Attorney Legal Services states that foreclosure rates across the county have gone up 97% in the past year and New Jersey’s situation only continues to get worse. shows NJ as having 650 foreclosures since August; 310 in November alone. More and more families are losing their homes. Many can no longer afford their mortgage payment and selling their home may not even be an option anymore. Home values have dropped drastically nationwide. Many people can’t sell their house because they owe more on their loans then they could potentially profit from the sale. By 2009 The Housing and Community Development Network of New Jersey predicts that 1 in 5 loan mortgages in New Jersey will be in default. With such shocking statistics, it is no surprise that so many people are homeless.

Kathy Schmookler, Volunteer coordinator and development assistant at the Atlantic City Rescue Mission, sees hundreds of homeless people daily. The rescue mission’s goal is to prevent homelessness but that’s not always possible. says that there are over 5,000 homeless people in the Atlantic City area alone. With the great amount of needy people in the area, the rescue mission faces an uphill battle daily.

Schmookler, who has worked in rescue missions for over thirty years, says “The economy has caused a swell in new clients.” Schmookler says that foreclosures, sudden losses of job, medical emergencies and other temporary issues have caused the additional need for assistance. “The working class is in need more than ever,” says Schmookler. Not only does the rescue mission provide shelter for the homeless but also supplies food baskets to needy families, work programs for the unemployed, addiction treatment, medical treatment and much more. “We’re like bookends…everything from homeless prevention to assisting people to they’re able to get their lives back to normal;” says schmookler “we’re holding their hands every step of the way.

“The biggest myth for us is that we’re just a soup kitchen,” says Schmookler “we do so much more than that.” The rescue mission has hundreds of volunteers and rarely has the need to recruit volunteers. “People realize there’s more demand [on the rescue mission] and come forward to help” says Schmookler. Although the rescue mission has an abundance of volunteers, they are still struggling for donations. Since the decline of the economy, the rescue mission has not been receiving the same amount of grants. Many of the foundations, who once gave thousands to the rescue mission, can no longer afford to donate at all. The working class, who has always donated food and money to rescue mission, can’t anymore because of their own financial hardships.

The economy is affecting everyone. Small business owners are feeling the strain of the recession as well. Common Folk Art owner Pam Valentine has been struggling to stay afloat since opening her store in 2006. “This year all around seems worse for my t-shirt business,” says Valentine in regards to declining sales. Custom t-shirts are a great novelty item yet her business is still in jeopardy. “When people are forced to scrimp just to pay bills…there is no room for impulse purchases’” says Valentine “Businesses like mine are suffering.” According to, half of all small businesses fail within four years. Valentine has been doing free-lance artwork, developing new ideas and desperately trying to expand her business through the internet to avoid closing her store.

Novelty stores like Common Folk Art aren’t the only businesses that are suffering. Casual eateries seem to be in jeopardy as well. “People who might in the past have gone out to eat twice a week are now staying at home for meals” says Valentine. She worries that all the independent restaurants, that are now vulnerable, will be bought up by large chains during the recession. She says that eventually this will also apply to large chain retailers that drive mom & pop stores out. “In the end, we all suffer from decreases in service, quality and variety” says Valentine.

Are any of us really recession-proof? It doesn’t seem like it anymore. Foreclosure, unemployment, financial hardship and homelessness can happen to anyone.

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