David Schaper

Part of a monthlong series

The Great Recession has hit the industrial Midwest especially hard in recent years, from big cities to small factory towns. But now, in at least one small Illinois city, local leaders believe the worst is finally behind them.

Sitting across the Mississippi River from downtown St. Louis, Granite City, Ill., has certainly seen better days. In its downtown, there are more boarded-up and empty storefronts and vacant lots than there are businesses.

Part of a monthlong series

Alice Eastman, a single mother living in Wheaton, Ill., is one of many Americans who, after losing her job, tried to make ends meet on unemployment while she hunted for a job in her field. Then after a long, fruitless search, she took a lower-paying job in retail.

Eastman had a pretty good job making $75,000 a year at the park district in the Chicago suburb of Bolingbrook, heading up its Department of Natural Resources.

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The sluggish economy means fewer travelers will be heading home for Thanksgiving this year, although it hasn't brought down prices. And as NPR's David Schaper reports, those who do fly will still find their flights packed.

Chicago recently ranked as the city with the second-worst traffic congestion problem in the country, but it doesn't have a lot of money to invest in other transit options. Mayor Rahm Emanuel's solution? A $2 "congestion fee" on weekday parking in public lots and garages downtown.

Other cities have had some success with congestion pricing for parking, but some Chicagoans are skeptical of the plan.

We fans of the Chicago Cubs rarely hear good news in October, so there's a little buzz of excitement around Wrigley Field these days about the possibility of Boston Red Sox GM Theo Epstein reportedly coming to Chicago to take over a similar or expanded role with the hapless Cubs.

In 2004, Epstein helped guide the Red Sox to their first World Series title in 86 years and to another title in 2007. In Chicago, he'd be trying to end a Cubs' championship drought dating back to 1908; the Cubs haven't even been to the World Series since 1945.

(This report is part of the Morning Edition series "2 Languages, Many Voices: Latinos In The U.S.," looking at the ways Latinos are changing — and being changed — by the U.S.)

One place the Hispanic population is growing is in the overwhelmingly white state of Iowa. The latest census figures show the Hispanic population, while only 5 percent of the state, has almost doubled since 2000.

And one small town — West Liberty — is the first in Iowa to have a majority Hispanic population.

As Hurricane Irene makes its way north, insurance companies are scrambling to get claims adjusters and other personnel in place up and down the East Coast and into New England.

Companies will be assessing the damage once Irene is through battering the northeastern states. If the hurricane hits as wide an area as is predicted, insured losses could be in the billions of dollars.

On the boardwalk of Ocean City, Md., Tony Russo Jr. is boarding up the windows of his family's restaurant, Tony's Pizza.

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