Low gas prices have most Americans smiling. But in the rugged desolation of New Mexico, cheap gas is nothing to celebrate. Here, where they punch holes in the ground to put food on the table, they've lost half their oil jobs in the last 18 months, reports CBS News Correspondent Jim Axelrod.
Sylvia Peterson, a commercial landlord, says, "It does effect the economy no matter what. It effects the grocery stores, the retail, cars, anything in Hobbs is effected by the oil prices."
From parking places to retail spaces, downtown Hobbs is empty and unemployment is approaching double digits.
Oil worker Robert Betts says, "A normal work week for us is 60-70 hours." And now? "Some crews are not even working ten."
It's the same story in oil patch towns from the bayous of Louisiana to the Colorado Rockies. Crime and bankruptcies are up, school enrollment and real estate values are down. It's so bad in Hobbs, the little league teams are losing their sponsors.
Dwayne Taylor, whose company services oil wells, sponsors a team. But his trucks are idle and all he can say to the kids is "sorry."
"We don't have the funding, the money to do it," says Taylor, "because we've been hit so hard. We're just trying to survive."
But where there is worry, there is warning: America is a guest at this cheap gas party, not the host.
Daniel Johncox, president of the Hobbs Chamber of Commerce, says, "When something happens in the world market that effects that flow of oil to the United States, then you're going to see gas lines. Then you're going to see fuel costs soaring out of control."
An alarm sounded from the oil patch where success is as much about hope as toughness. And low prices are testing both.
Copyright 1999 CBS. All rights reserved.
CBSNews.com staff CBSNews.com staff