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I was doing a little research for a personal project I’ve been working on and found myself on a web site that aggregates information about local towns across the country. I grew up in a little town about 30 miles outside of Boston called East Bridgewater and was curious to take a look and see how the composition of the town has changed.

When I grew up the town, which had been a small industrial center during its early history in the 17th and 18th centuries, was a depressed New England farebwgrowthm town with some remaining light industry.

Over the past 30 years, the population has grown by more than two-thirds, while the housing stock has increased by more than 75%.

Over the course of the last decade, housing has been a big driver of economic activity: home values expanded, population grew, housing starts increased and housing-related industries became an important part of the employment base.

0B1BC7B6-8EF6-4739-A936-B22AE526A6F2.jpgA look at the past three years, shows that the halcyon days are over, with this little New England town experiencing the same corrosive effects of the housing bust as thousands of towns around the country. Home sales were at a standstill in the first quarter of 2009 and median home values have declined nearly 30%.

ebwtroccsThe occupations that the men in the town are most suited for — construction, carpentry, driving, electrical work — are square in the middle of the most rapidly contracting industries in the economy.

The unemployment rate in town jumped from 4% in December 2007 to 7.1% in December 2008.

These are the kinds of body blows that small towns are taking around the country. Even a small town in the northeast, with a diversified employment base and outside of a major metropolitan area, can experience a rapid and disorienting shift.