Published: Sep 09, 2010 10:39 PM EDT
Updated: Sep 09, 2010 5:53 PM EDT

HENDRY COUNTY, Fla. - A new index of economic stress finds that Hendry County in Southwest Florida, ranks among the worst in America. The index, compiled by the Associated Press, uses unemployment figures, and bankruptcy and foreclosure numbers. Hendry ranks 11th from the worst for economic stress, among all the counties in the U.S. The jobless rate in Hendry is nearing 20 percent.

"I believe it, because I have lost my job, car and house," said 52-yr. old Karen Howard. "I am leaving this county because it is drying up. It's going to be ghost town. Everyone is hurting and it is really degrading to not be able to buy a small toy for your grandchild. That really hurts."

People at the United Way in Labelle deal with the stress every day. "It is very heavy on our hearts. It is draining to hear so much need," said Arlene Bettencourt. Another worker, Maribel Sanchez, told WINK that clients sometimes just fall apart, they are so desperate and hopeless. 

"I had a lady in here, and she just broke down. She broke down and told me over and over, I cannot take this," said Sanchez.

Roger Harrison, the president of the Hendry Economic Development Council, told WINK: "It is tough  right now and we are working night and day to turn it around.We need to diversify with a variety of small to medium-sized businesses. We do have a bio-fuels plant that will break ground south of Clewiston in 30 days, and eventually provide 250 jobs. We are working to promote tourism to expose more people to this area. But you can't  turn around an ocean liner in a moment, and that is the same with this recession."

The economy used to be based on agriculture, but that is hurting because of disease and competition from overseas. Still, the economic collapse is taking a heavy toll on people of all ages. 71-yr. old Sarah Hinkle said: "I have lost my business and saved my house, only through a reverse mortgage. It is tough to work 50 years and have nothing to show for it.   It tears me up inside. I fear that Hendry is just not going to be a place for jobs. There are none right now."