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Ailing Factory Towns Face Tougher Road To Recovery

"We worked 40 or 50 years in textiles. Then, that was gone," said Holt, whose retraining at a community college is designed to help workers displaced by the North American Free Trade Agreement. "People talk about a five-year plan, a 10-year plan. You could do that then. Now it's a moment-to-moment plan."

The AP's analysis, which assigns each county a score from 1 to 100 with higher numbers reflecting the greatest stress from the recession, shows some of the heaviest impact in hardscrabble communities where the factories went quiet years ago.

Cities like Woonsocket, R.I., whose aging population has watched so many plants depart that surrounding Providence County carries one of the nation's highest unemployment rates despite being home to universities and state government.

Towns like Elkhart, Ind., on the Michigan line, where recreational vehicle makers have laid off hundreds. Elkhart County forms the western end of a strip of counties stretching into Ohio that includes four of the eight worst Stress Index scores, and in each place, manufacturing makes up close to half the workforce.

Places like Burlington, a city of 50,000 two hours northeast of Charlotte, where the tough times are measured not only by the loss of a steady paycheck, but by the strain it places on veteran workers trying to reinvent a career later in life.

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