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For Indiana Amish, Living Simply Looks Good Again

Although exceptionally self-sufficient as a community, even Northern Indiana's Amish population has felt the effects of recession.

Of the 227,000 American Amish, two-thirds live in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Indiana.

Hoosier members of the Christian sect known for its voluntarily simple lifestyle are concentrated in northern Indiana, particularly LaGrange and Elkhart Counties.

The latter, in particular, held the dubious distinction of boasting the nation’s highest unemployment rate in the fall of 2008, meriting a visit from then-candidate Obama.

By March 2009, LaGrange County had acceded to the top spot with an unemployment rate of 18.9 per cent.

Although exceptionally self-sufficient as a community, even the area’s Amish population has felt the effects of recession.

Long-employed in traditional trades and farming practices, the Amish have increasingly sought employment in northern Indiana’s booming recreational vehicle and manufactured housing industries, using tools and producing products they would privately eschew.

In 2002, approximately 53 per cent of Amish men under 65 in Northern Indiana were employed in the area’s factories.

As the RV business faltered, however, the Amish started joining the rolls of those seeking unemployment benefits. Although church tradition long dictated its members abstain from public assistance, in recent years laid-off Northern Indiana Amish have obtained permission from the church’s bishops to obtain financial help.

The shift demonstrates a larger trend among the traditional community whose members have not only been working in technologically modern industries, but have come to adopt a lifestyle involving a relatively higher level of consumption and dependence upon modern conveniences.

At the same time, however, evidence has surfaced that the faltering mainstream economy has prompted a resurgence of traditional Amish values and cottage industries in northern Indiana, from bakeries to cabinet-makers.

Amish-owned businesses have proven remarkably recession-proof.

Although functioning off the power grid, without motorized vehicles or the Internet, and often with no education beyond the eighth grade, Amish entrepreneurs post a mere five per cent failure rate, as compared with a 50 per cent national small business default rate.

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