Phoebus still positive amid US economic gloom

Two years on from the

    New US goverment figures released on Friday show the unemployment rate remains at 9.5 per cent and that the economy only added 71,000 private sector jobs last month.

    Economists question whether or not that's enough to keep the wind in the sails of the recovery.

    US President Barack Obama tried to put a positive spin on the numbers on Friday, saying: "The fact is, we've now added private sector jobs every month this year, instead of losing them, as we did for the first seven months of last year. And that's a good sign. "

    Jobs, jobs, jobs continues to be the number one issue for voters heading into the November midterm elections. 

    As members of Congress head home for the August recess, they're finding constituents anxious about the future.

    That's especially true in the town of Phoebus, Virginia.

    Phoebus is a small town of about 4,500 people on the water in the southern part of the state.

    Al Jazeera spent Election Day 2008 at the Phoebus Coffee House talking to residents about their concerns.

    Both Democrats and Republicans said they were worried about the economy. That was just a couple of months after the recession hit.

    Last week, we went back to Phoebus to see how the town is faring almost two years since our last visit.  

    Last latte

    We found the Phoebus Coffee House closed.

    Owner Anne Doop went out of business in February after three years serving lattes and sandwiches to the town's residents.

    She said her business was successful for the first two years, but 2009 was hard.

    "Business just dwindled down and we weren't able to stay open." 

    She tried to hold on, but eventually the recession and bad luck were overwhelming.

    Doop says she misses her customers most. "It was like being the community living room.

    "That was what we'd always envisioned that place to be. And it got to be that way.

    "Having a couple come in for Sunday brunch and read the newspaper there, have a coffee and watching people come and go."

    The problems in Phoebus mirror those of the nation – unemployment and the sour housing market. 

    In addition, the Phoebus area is bracing for the loss of the Fort Monroe Army Base in September 2011. 

    More than 4,000 jobs will be lost when the base closes.

    The military has a long history in the area dating back to 1609. 

    Fort Monroe was built in 1819 and was a key Union base during the Civil War. It served as a refuge for blacks fleeing slavery. 

    The fort is still an integral part of life in Phoebus.

    Its impact is everywhere – from the table full of soldiers eating lunch next to us at the local diner, to the serviceman filling up his car at the petrol station where we'd stopped.

    When they leave next year, so will a major contributor to the economy, more than just the lost jobs.

    Positive thinking

    Town officials are working with the federal and state governments to determine what will happen to the land. 

    Longtime city councilman and former mayor Ross Kearney helped organise town hall meetings for residents to discuss their concerns.

    "What we're hoping as members of the authority is that we're going to be able to see Monroe revitalised in a way to serve the needs of the community and also to bring jobs to our community," says Kearney.


    We discussed Phoebus' future while he brought in his daily catch of crabs from the water with Fort Monroe visible in the distance.  

    Kearney is hoping the land along the Chesapeake Bay will be turned into a national park or a headquarters for a large company. 

    An eternal optimist, Kearney believes despite its problems, the future is bright for Phoebus.

    "The only thing I want to make sure is that this is going to be a community that my grandchildren want to live in," he says.   

    Despite Doop's troubles, she too is positive about the future of her hometown. 

    "I know there's light at the end of the tunnel. I just didn't quite make it," she says.


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