A Closer Look at Our Patchwork Nation

BY Ray Suarez  December 3, 2009 at 1:16 PM EST

An old Bob Marley song includes the lyric, “Remember that when the rain falls, it don’t fall on one man’s house.” The worst recession since the Great Depression has hit millions of Americans in expected and unexpected ways. The pain is widespread, but not evenly spread.

The PBS NewsHour’s Patchwork Nation project took a look at American communities and tried to understand what attributes places have in common and what separates them, and we found different places were hit by the recession in very different ways.

Over the past month I traveled with the Patchwork Nation team to five counties across the country to see what the recession has meant to them. It was a fascinating set of trips that took me from the foot of East Coast skyscrapers to the tops of Iowa grain elevators, from the ovens of a popular bakery in Michigan to a glassblower’s furnace just steps from the breaking waves of the Pacific in Oregon.


The five counties reinforced the idea that America really is a patchwork. Aggregated statistics of whole states, whole regions, or the nation as a whole can’t catch the subtleties of what happened to individual Americans at recession’s ground zero. The speculators and flippers of Eagle, CO wouldn’t have found banks to play along in conservative Sioux Center, Iowa, where excess debt is discouraged. Ann Arbor, MI is spinning new businesses from its concentration of highly educated workers in a small city that can’t be matched in Philadelphia… though Philly is chock-full of colleges, the city is so large the university presence can’t lift a city of a million and a half all on its own. I urge you to visit the extensive video, audio, and written features accompanying the Patchwork Nation project by the project director Dante Chinni, the NewsHour’s Anna Shoup and Joanne Elgart Jennings online and reports by me on the broadcast. Happy hunting. Tune in next week, starting on Dec. 7, to see these five communities come to life as the PBS NewsHour takes a new approach to the serious journalism you’ve trusted on air and online.