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For almost a century, Muncie, Indiana has been known as "Middletown," the quintessential American community. But now, as the rust-belt city grapples with deepening recession, many residents are losing their hold on the middle class. Think of them as the brittle class, just one fragile rung above poverty on the economic ladder.

Reaching High and Deep Reaching High and Deep Sarah Lyttle is a yoga teacher whose fall from the middle class was precipitous. A divorced mother of three, she never saw poverty coming. Now she’s summoning inner strength and outer resources in a difficult journey back to self-sufficiency.

Gear Shift Gear Shift For 25 years, Charlie Saubert worked for a mainstay of Muncie: BorgWarner. Thousands of workers like Charlie built middle class lives. They looked forward to a comfortable retirement. But the plant closed last month and now Charlie is among thousands who can’t imagine what they’ll do next.

Cancel My Reservation Cancel My Reservation Aaron Wand and his wife Judy feel lucky to be employed, but burdened by student and consumer debt. They've decided they can't afford to have children. Their story is a reminder that shrinking dreams – and a shrinking population – are typical consequences of a shrinking economy.

Constant Crisis Constant Crisis Roy Foreman and Ashley Chalfant are not ashamed to say they’re poor. Jobs and education would help, but they have children to care for, bills to pay, and one crisis after another to resolve. They say they couldn't make it without family support, but the recession is undermining their family too.

Writing a New Chapter Writing a New Chapter Angelic Wood has two young sons, a chronic disease, and a determination to get out of poverty. A local non-profit group is helping to rebuild her life. Volunteers from Muncie’s middle class have agreed to accompany Angelic on her quest. It’s a bold experiment in uncertain times.

You can download the radio program, listen online, or read the transcript.

This story as aired on the BBC program Crossing Continents.

The effects of moving from manufacturing to service economies.

A timeline of Middletown studies throughout the 20th Century.

A slideshow of Muncie's early industrial life.

An interview with Staughton Lynd, son of Robert and Helen Lynd.

Links, Credits and Music.

Comments or questions?

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Support for Hard Times in Middletown comes from the Northwest Area Foundation Fund of the Minneapolis Foundation.