OPB Wins Peabody Award For Hard Times Series

OPB has won the Peabody Award for its series on Oregonians coping with the economic recession.

The series, called Hard Times, followed a dozen people around the state as they weathered unemployment and the personal consequences that followed.

The Peabody judges said, “The Main Street repercussions of Wall Street’s reckless ways were nowhere in the media more humanly and thoughtfully documented than in this series of radio reports.”

Hard Times Series Wrap-up Special

How Did The Last Year Change You?

Over the course of 2009, we followed a dozen Oregonians as they weathered the worst of economic times.

Some lost their jobs. Some lost their health insurance. Some had to sell their homes. And others just got by on less.

When we started to tell their stories, we asked the question: How did you survive the great recession?

Now, we look back at where they’ve been, and ask: How did the last year change you?

Here are the stories of some of the people we followed.

Michael Smith

Michael Smith is a 50-year-old engineer from Sherwood, Oregon. Smith worked in a company that built measuring devices for computer chips, but lost his job in Oct. 2008.

He bought his house in Sherwood for $850,000 in 2006. He’s now selling it for $700,000. Once that sale goes through, he’s planning to buy another house in Happy Valley for about $350,000.

His wife is a nurse and they can afford the new place on her salary alone. They have no children.

Smith has been on unemployment benefits for about 6 months. He’s looking for work but says nobody seems to be hiring at the moment.

5/13/2009 - Even Highly-Educated Workers Find Job Opportunities Scarce
5/19/2009 - Followup - Selling A House And Moving

6/12/2009 - A New Home After Many Challenges



Mike Rust

 Mike Rust is a 61-year-old union pipeline worker who lives in Burns. He's married and has 6 grown children.

He grew up in Vida, near Eugene, and his first job was as a logger, but when the timber business started to struggle he began working on natural gas pipelines, from the Northwest to the Mountain West.

He has been out of work since October and has seen a lot fewer jobs to apply for this year, because of the economy.

He is thinking of applying to jobs as far east as Missouri, to cast a wider net.

5/13/2009 - Pipeline Worker Mike Rust, 61, Looking For Work
6/17/2009 - A Follow Up With Mike Rust
6/30/2009 - Unemployed Keep Their Heads Up
12/30/2009 - Natural Gas Worker Still Unemployed, Still Hopeful


Melissa Tokstad

Melissa Tokstad, 37, is the owner of Melika, a Hood River swim and active wear store for women.

The economy forced Tokstad to cut back on several positions at her store, including sales help and a production assistant.

This means she has to do that work herself, working more hours and spending more time in her store.  Tokstad started up a wholesale business this fall, selling her designs at different stores in the northwest.

She says her work schedule these days doesn’t leave much time to enjoy outdoor activities in the gorge -- which is why she moved there in the first place.

5/21/2009 - Hood River Businesses Try New Strategies To Deal With Economy
8/10/2009 - Hood River Businesses See A Corner Turned


Kathy Watson

Kathy Watson, 53, is proprietor of Nora’s Table restaurant and Gorge Catering in Hood River.

She has changed the way she runs her restaurant by cutting costs whereever possible, doing more email marketing, and even having cooks wash dishes on slow nights to save on payroll costs for a dishwasher.

She works seven days a week, even days the restaurant isn’t open.

Winters are slow in Hood River, so she has to plan on making enough in the summers to carry the business through the winter.  Her cuts and hard work are slowly paying off, though, and Watson says her revenue is up from this same time last year.

Even so, she's very much looking forward to an economic recovery.

5/21/2009 - Hood River Businesses Try New Strategies To Deal With Economy
8/10/2009 - Hood River Businesses See A Corner Turned



Annie Adkisson and Joel Shempert

Annie Adkisson, 30, and Joel Shempert, 34, are a young married couple living in Northeast Portland with their five-month-old daughter, Niamh.

Annie left her job with a software company because she was having a baby - and because the company had stopped paying her.

Joel is now the sole breadwinner.  He's an instructor with the Multnomah Education Service District.

To help  make ends meet,  Joel and Annie are sharing their home with new housemates. They're also eating and entertaining at home, instead of going out. But, they’re still battling steep debts - particularly from credit cards - and there are medical and dental procedures they need to have done, but can’t easily afford.

All in all, though, they say they're learning to get by on far less than they thought they could.

5/20/2009 - Taking In Roommates To Make Ends Meet
6/12/2009 - Finances Affect The Whole Family
9/28/2009 - Child Care And Health Issues Complicate Unemployment Problems



Chris Baker

Chris Baker is a 42-year-old entrepreneur from Portland.

He’s started up a medical software company, CrossCurrent, which currently employs about eight people.

Last year there were 18 people on staff, but the economic crisis forced Baker to make massive cuts.

He’s married with two kids. His wife is a teacher with Portland Public Schools.

5/20/2009 - Layoffs Are Hard On The Bosses Too
7/31/2009 - Not Even CEOs Are Safe In This Recession
9/22/2009 - A New CEO And A Brighter Tomorrow
12/29/2009 - Hard Times Bring Challenges And Opportunties To Local Entrepreneur


Bonnie Warren

Bonnie Warren and Joey Levy are both 25 years old.

They're making a living on one-and-a-half incomes right now; she's a certified nurse's assistant at Menlo Park Health Care, and he works in retail.

Like many young couples, they're struggling with bills, and trying to maintain a sense of fun and family.

Bonnie and Joe are raising two kids: 4-year-old Faye, a daughter from Bonnie's first marriage, and the couple's eight-month old baby, Jaden.

Finances permitting, they hope to get married in August of 2010, but with cash in short supply, nothing's set in stone yet.

5/26/2009 - Economic Downturn Brings Stress To Life At Work And At Home
6/30/2009 - Hard Times Are A Little Easier In Summer
11/23/2009 - What Still Sells When The Money's Tight?


Ben Perrins And Cindi Shipley

Ben Perrins and Cindi Shipley are married, with three kids: Kya (age 9), Kenny (6), and Christopher (3). They're currently jobless and homeless, and have been moving in and out of shelters, and among friends' couches.

Often, when the parents are couch-surfing, the family splits in two, with the older kids staying at Grandma's house in North Portland.

Ben and Cindi are hoping to find work - Cindi in retail, and Ben probably working with his hands. And they're hoping to find a permanent place to call their own. The tight economy and their spotty rental history make both a challenge.

6/4/2009 - Ben Perrins And Cindi Shipley
8/27/2009 - Family Finds Temporary Respite In Shelter
11/17/2009 - A Wedding, A Home And Hope
12/31/2009 - A Family Escapes Homelessness


Angie Blackwell

Angie Blackwell is a 42-year old mother of five.

She lives in McMinnville with her husband, Darren.

A former tribal councilwoman for the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde, she's now starting her own business as a coach for blended families.

6/17/2009 - Starting A Business After A Layoff
9/4/2009 - Improved Market May Help Some Home Owners
12/28/2009 - Hard Times Show Value Of Things Money Can't Buy


Jeanie Brisbois

The 49-year-old mother formerly worked at children’s protective services on the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs reservation. After losing that job, she was unemployed for a year, living on savings.

Now she works at the tribal vehicle pool, and is happy with her job.

The recession challenged her because at the beginning of 2009, all four of her adult children lived at home. During the year, her two adult sons moved to Seattle and have been getting by on tribal per-capita payments and low-paying jobs. But they are getting by.

Recently, her two daughters moved out of the house — one to Portland, and one moved in with a family member.

Brisbois hopes her kids use the tough economic times to learn the lessons of frugality and entrepreneurship.

10/15/2009 - Life On The Reservation Full Of Challenges
11/13/2009 - Family Ties Help On Reservation


Musical Talent Shines Through 'Hard Times'

Over the past year, you’ve heard the voices of people who were hit hard by the recession.  As part of OPB’s series Hard Times, you also heard other voices, raised in song. 

We asked local musicians to send us their versions of the theme for our series: Hard Times Come Again No More by Stephen Foster.

Morning Edition host Geoff Norcross talks with OPB News managing editor Eve Epstein about the music that accompanies our series.

Hear more at




So How About You?

We'd love to add your story to our project.  How have you dealt with the recession of 2009 and how has it changed your life?

Send us your thoughts and we'll add them to this site.