Living Amish-ish In Hard Times

Church leaders say OK to outside help for struggling community

By Matt Bartosik
|  Monday, Apr 20, 2009  |  Updated 1:36 PM CDT
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Living Amish-ish In Hard Times

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Normally, the Amish frown upon accepting government assistance, but that could change in one Indiana community.

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The Amish are best known for their prohibitions on the use of electricity, telephones and automobiles. They also do not buy insurance or accept government assistance.

However, many of these simple-living communities have been hit hard by the recession.  As a result, in Goshen, Ind., the Amish population might be making a few exceptions to their strict limitations.

With just under 32,000 residents, the small town 120 miles east of Chicago was hit hard by a recent wave of layoffs. Amish church leaders have permitted members to begin collecting unemployment benefits, if necessary.

"No one says go out and do it," Eli Miller, 72, told the Tribune. "But when they have to feed their families, we thought it would be OK to accept some of it, even though we would rather not."

Farming alone does not provide the funds needed to pay the increasing land prices, so most of the men in the community work in factories assembling recreational vehicles. But the RV industry was hit hard by the recent gas hike and then again by the current economic crisis.

This wouldn't be the first time the Amish have had to adjust to the economy. During the Depression, some Amish men were allowed to register for driver's licenses.

Gary Zehr, the LaGrange County economic development director, said the Amish have had to change their way of thinking.

"... [Y]ou have to think about how you will support your family, instead of just going to work," he said.

Matt Bartosik is the editor of Off the Rocks' next issue and a "between blogs" blogger.

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