Sue Pitts has seen up close Ohio's evolution from a manufacturing-based economy to one based on knowledge, has felt the rewards of change as well as its financial hardships, and has found the holes in the new world that she believes only the government can plug.
Like so many friends and neighbors in and around Russells Point, she worked in a factory, in her case a plant of Siemens AG, where she made electrical breaker boxes for six hard years. The pay was good, but a repetitive motion injury to her shoulder ended her career in 2000. Her husband, Rick, had his own problems, with a bad back.
In what seemed like the blink of an eye, Pitts, 42, had exhausted the savings in her 401(k) plan. Credit card debts mounted, finally to $10,000, and in November 2002 the family filed for bankruptcy.
But as that financial darkness descended, Sue Pitts answered a want ad in the local newspaper, the Bellefontaine Examiner, which was looking for a reporter. With no university degree and only a few college writing classes, she landed the position.
It was a significant pay cut for her. She resumed saving in a 401(k) plan only this year, investing very conservatively, she might add. And health insurance is not what it once was, with steadily rising co-payments for coverage that seems to contract each year.
But, she said, after four years on a skeleton crew, covering everything from school boards to traffic accidents, "I love it. I absolutely love it. There's something new every day. . . . I actually feel like I'm using my brain."
That joy is tempered, however, by the hardships that manufacturing work once shielded her family against. Her daughter is just about to turn 18, but there is nothing in the bank for tuition. Pitts's pay drifted upward in her first two years at the newspaper, but in the past two she hasn't received a raise even to cover the rising cost of living. Between her reporting and her husband's freelance computer Web site designing, the family earns less than $35,000 a year.
Health insurance is an issue that only grows more pressing. Pitts says her insurance covers only 40 percent of the cost of some procedures that were once fully covered.
Beyond her own circumstances, not everyone in her neck of central Ohio is landing on his feet.
"We are about 30 miles away from the big Honda plant [in Marysville]. That's where the bulk of the good jobs are, but they're at a standstill," she said. "Of the jobs that have gone, they've been replaced with lower-paying jobs."
But with a new presidential term, Pitts is upbeat. "I think there will be some change, for the better," she ventured.
Democratic presidential nominee Sen. John F. Kerry raised the profile of the health insurance issue so high that Washington may have to address it, she said. Tax credits to defray the cost of college tuition are another idea she supports as a way to help her daughter get to college and for her to finish a degree that has languished since she left Siemens.
"I would take [them] up on that, absolutely," she said.