CBS Finds Worst-Case Economic Hardship Story; Blames $4 Gas, Bailouts

     Glen Meert, a small business owner in Elkhart, Ind., has found himself – and his neighbors – thrust into the national spotlight. And it’s not for anything good.

     The national media have swarmed Elkhart in recent weeks, using its extreme hardship as an illustration for effect the economic downturn has had on middle America.

     The CBS “Evening News” profiled Meert Nov. 6 as part of its “The Other America” series, which finds extreme examples of economic hardships on a regular basis for “Evening News” viewers.

     “Glen Meert’s beef brisket may still fill stomachs, but it’s not filling seats anymore at his Elkhart, Ind. restaurant,” CBS correspondent Seth Doane said.

     Why isn’t it filling seats? According to Doane’s report, the local economy is struggling, but Meert tied it to other culprits.

     “I would say what happened was – is when the gas hit the $4-mark a gallon, we saw significant drop,” Meert said to “Evening News.” “And then as soon as the banking bailout crisis happened, it was a freefall.”

     Doane predicted a “crash landing” for employees.

     It’s an unfortunate circumstance for Meert, who according to the report has laid off 12 people from his 14-year-old restaurant/catering company with more to come, and is still losing as much as $4,000 a week.

     However, the national average price for gasoline has fallen to $2.31 a gallon and $2.09 in the Indiana, according to the AAA. One Web site that tracks gas prices locally has the price at the pump in Elkhart anywhere between $2.08 and $2.19 a gallon – nearly half what they were when Meert began seeing his decline in business.

   Another likely culprit, according to Doane, has been the faltering of the city’s RV industry, which has been hit hard by higher energy prices – long before gas was close to $4 a gallon.

    “Elkhart, once driven by the RV industry, has been hit hard,” Doane said. “The unemployment rate here has almost doubled in a year to more than 10 percent.”

    Other national news outlets, including The New York Times, Time magazine and the Associated Press, have picked Elkhart, Ind. for economic hardship news story features, according to an article by Amelia Jeffirs in the Oct. 18 Elkhart Truth, the city’s local newspaper.

     However, despite the national attention the northern Indiana city of 52,000 has received, the city isn’t moping about the tough hand it has been dealt. A recent press release by the city’s chamber of commerce didn’t ask for pity, but explained the pros of locating a business in Elkhart – logistical advantages, low cost of business and low cost of living.

     “We don’t want to downplay the challenges people are facing, but at the same time we want to remind people of the power of our economic engine,” Kyle Hannon, vice president of Public Policy for the Chamber said in a release.

     It is common for  the national media to pick extreme examples of economic hardship to represent the average American. From exaggerating gas prices to ignoring borrowers’ responsibility to make prudent decisions, the media have focused on worst-case scenarios instead of painting an accurate picture of economic slowdown.