This story was co-published with MSNBC.com
A laid-off RV industry worker who President Obama spotlighted in his push for the stimulus plan has finally found a new job.
Ed Neufeldt briefly became the face of the economic downturn in February when he was chosen to introduce the president at a town hall meeting in Elkhart, Ind. Obama used the speech to promote the stimulus bill that was pending in Congress.
Neufeldt was just the sort of person the stimulus plan was designed to help: a worker in the country's struggling manufacturing belt who lost his job as the credit crisis hit and American consumers stopped buying. After 32 years building cabinets for Monaco Coach, he was laid off with hundreds of others when the plant closed in October. Several of his children had lost their jobs in the RV industry, too.
Now, Neufeldt senses a turnaround -- but it's not clear whether it's because of the stimulus.
Three weeks ago, he got a job stocking shelves for Lewis Bakeries. Three or four days a week, he leaves his house in nearby Wakarusa at 5 a.m., drives to Elkhart, and works until 8 or 9 in the morning. He goes back to the store around 2:30 p.m. to see if there's anything else to shelve. In between, he volunteers at the Faith Mission, a shelter and soup kitchen in Elkhart.
"Even though I'm not making [more than] $120 to $150 a week, it feels good to be working again," he said. "Not very much, but when you haven't worked in 9 or 10 months ... just the feeling of getting back into work again, it's a good feeling."
In April, we visited Elkhart to see how things were going. At the time, Neufeldt wasn't convinced the stimulus would mean jobs for him and his friends, many of whom had also been laid off from the plant.
At the end of April, Monaco was bought by Navistar International. A few of his friends have since been called back to work at the plant, he said, and those who had seen their hours cut are working full-time again.
Neufeldt isn't sure how much of this can be chalked up to the stimulus. Lewis Bakeries didn't respond to questions about whether his job was related to the stimulus.
But Dick Moore, Elkhart's mayor, said that the stimulus is "absolutely" helping to bring back jobs. He used the example of the local airport renovation, saying, "We'll probably see fifty people working on that airport. But think about the fact that they're using a lot of trucks. People build trucks and repair trucks. By my own figures, when you employ one person, you really employ five."
Whatever the cause, something's changing, Neufeldt said. "I think we reached bottom, and we're coming back up."
Staff reporter Michael Grabell contributed to this report.