A decade of loss

Decrease Increase Text size

While the city of New York picked itself up, the rest of the country also mourned - then mourned again when soldiers died in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. And mourned yet again when the housing market went bust and when the Great Recession began.

(Photo courtesy Beverly and Pack via Flickr)

"Maybe in New York, they can see a phoenix rising out of the ashes," said Tony Brunello, a political science professor at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Fla. "But to people around here, it's a world of fear, with no evidence of the recovery."

New Yorkers weren't spared the hardship of the recession and wars. But their morale might be higher a decade after 9/11 because they see evidence of progress and accomplishment at ground zero, Brunello and Baick said, while folks in places like Florida, Arizona and Nevada felt an ever-worsening string of events over the past decade, with no end in sight.

"The rest of the country is still trying to grasp the meaning of these things, trying to make sense of them," said Baick. "The rest of the country, which was not as affected by 9/11, is still coming to grips with this."

Struggling for years

Wolford is finding that getting back up isn't always so easy. Out of work yet again, the 54-year-old Fort Myers, Fla., construction worker is back at the unemployment office, trying to puzzle through the newly mandated process of applying for benefits online.

When he first learned about 9/11, Wolford was in a different world. He'd been working for about a dozen years at the same roofing company. Lee County, halfway between Tampa and Miami, was booming. Houses were sprouting up everywhere on what were once orange groves.

Unemployment that year hit a record low of 2.1 percent.

Watching the twin towers burn on a hospital TV during a break from his roofing job, Wolford was shocked, sad, but not personally impacted. He figures most people outside of New York felt that way.

Looking back now, it seems Sept. 11 heralded a shift. It's not the same country that he grew up in, he says. There's less confidence, less opportunity, especially for guys like him. He has a sense that America's best days are gone.

"I hear people talking on TV and radio about how we're the greatest nation," he said. "I just don't believe that any more."

Columbus Brown Jr., a 46-year-old out of work construction worker, said he used to make upward of $175 a day pouring concrete foundations for homes during the boom. He noticed a slowdown in work right after Sept. 11, 2001, and it gradually tapered off over a seven-year period.
Now he's lucky to make $175 a week.

These days, he files for unemployment and works the occasional day-labor gig. He doesn't have a cell phone, cable TV or Internet. Sometimes he takes his 13-year-old son to the library, so the teenager can help him file for unemployment on the computer.

He lives with his father after he moved out of the apartment he shared with his wife and four children so she could obtain food stamps.

"Before Sept. 11, everything was booming," he said. "There was a lot of work. Now, everywhere you go, it's very hard. America's not growing like it used to."

Wolford points to the economy when talking about his own troubles, but thinks that the U.S. as a whole probably began to decline on 9/11. The terror attacks and the housing bust were like one-two punches to America.

Since he was laid off in the housing slowdown in 2007, and then again last year after a two-year stint at a lower paying job, Wolford's applied for dozens of jobs and had zero interviews. No one needs roofers, not anymore. Lee County was one of Florida's fastest-growing areas. Until the housing boom crashed, and took the economy with it.

By January of last year, the unemployment rate there was 14.2 percent - nearly seven times what it had been a decade earlier.

He's started looking for work in Orlando, some three hours away - and about the future of places like Lee County. New York, he thinks, will be OK because he believes lots of bankers and rich people live there.

"It's doing better than Lee County," he says, shaking his head.

A different decade

For Bonilla, it was a different decade.

He watched the events of 9/11 on a television on a Marine base in Georgia.

  1. «
  2. 1
  3. 2
  4. 3
  5. »

Would you like to contribute to this story? Join the discussion.

Recommended For You
comments powered by Disqus