Economic Storm Batters Ohio Town

60 Minutes' Scott Pelley Reports From An American Town In The Path Of An Economic Storm

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When President Obama spoke of "the winter of our hardship" in his inaugural address, no one in America understood that better than the folks 60 Minutes met in Wilmington, Ohio. They're people in the grip of a brutal series of layoffs at DHL, the shipping company. Their experience was part of the news this past week that new claims for unemployment benefits are the highest in 26 years.

Since the economic crash of 2008, taxpayers have committed to more than $1 trillion in various bailouts of Wall Street. But not much of that is reaching families in crisis. On kitchen tables, headlines from Washington and New York lie beside unpaid tuition bills and foreclosure notices. After all the speeches and parties of Inauguration Day, what were the families in Wilmington asking?

"Are we going to lose our home? Are we going to be able to pay our property taxes? What are we gonna do for insurance? What are we gonna do for food? You know, and these are questions that you'd never think that we'd ask yourself. And now they're discussions in the home," says Mike O'Machearley, who is losing the job that helped support four children and a grandson.

"They always say that God closes a door, he opens another one. And we have faith that he will," he adds.

Faith is what sustains Wilmington now. Settled by Quakers 200 years ago, it's a community with such an all-American look that it seems like a movie set. About 12,000 people live there. And many, like O'Machearley, work in the last industry you'd expect in a laid back town.

In 1980, Airborne Express turned Wilmington's abandoned Air Force base into a hub for overnight shipping. Eight thousand people found work at what they call "the air park." Then, in 2003 a German company, DHL, bought Airborne in an effort to win a big piece of the U.S. market. It didn't work. The merger was rocky, there were service disruptions, and customers left in droves. With last fall's economic crash, DHL was losing $6 million a day in the U.S.; layoffs started coming by the hundreds.

People who worked there for decades found themselves in DHL-sponsored meetings learning about unemployment.

"We could tell you what we did on a daily basis, but you wouldn't believe it. You know, boxes in a big container, and it'll weigh 800 pounds, you push it out the door through eight inches of snow, and push it up on a barge, and we were idiots enough that we did it by ourselves. We worked as a team, and we had a good friend right along side of us," Keith Rider tells correspondent Scott Pelley.

Clarification: On Jan. 30, DHL Express ended its point-to-point shipping within the United States. Two other DHL brands-DHL Global Forwarding and DHL Global Mail-continue their U.S. domestic operations.

"You're losin' a lot more than a job," Pelley remarks.

"Our friends. It's crazy. You'll never understand it. But we loved it," Rider says.

"I remember people with scarves breathin' through ice in just unreal…eyelashes frozen and I started in '81. And when you worked, you worked. Why weren't we bailed out?" Morris Deufemia asks.

DHL is spending $260 million on severance pay and health insurance that will keep many workers going for several months. But there is a feeling in town that the German company wrecked a successful American business and wiped out thousands of jobs.

"I was educated here, Wilmington city schools and then at Wilmington College," says Mayor David Raizk, who has been getting layoff notices for months.

By federal law, companies have to notify local government when layoffs are coming. Raizk is getting a new letter from DHL every week or so, adding a few hundred at a time to the growing list of lost jobs.

"It's got classifications and numbers on it, but there's not names, addresses and who their wife and their family and children are. So you look at these and at the end of the day, you think that's 800 and some people, folks, live here, work here, you know," Raizk says.

The mayor told 60 Minutes one out of three households has a family member working at the air park.

Angela and John Pica are raising four children on two air park salaries. Angela started at Airborne Express when she was 19. Now, as a supervisor, she walks laid off workers to the company gate and takes their ID badges away.

"Today, I escorted five individuals out today. Last week, I think I escorted three," she tells Pelley.

Asked what the last thing is she says to them, Pica says, "I tell them that I wish them the best. And it has been a pleasure, working with every one of them, because they're a great bunch of people. And they deserve so much better than this."

Did you know…
  • Wilmington Air Park in Wilmington, Ohio, is the largest privately owned airport with a Category 3 radar in the United States at approximately 2,200-acres. Clinton County's largest employer is the Air Park.
  • According to the Economic Task Force for the DHL hub convened by Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher and Mayor David Raizk of the city of Wilmington, the projected economic impact of the job losses will exceed $400 million annually.