LORDSBURG, N.M. - The whispers around town started this spring during the early days of the shutdown. Something felt off, even here in this windswept crossroads far from most troubles. Dean Link had a hunch about what was to come, but when the mail arrived in August, despair overwhelmed him.
"You will be laid off effective September 7, 2020," stated the letter from the mayor of Lordsburg informing Link that his part-time job at the museum was over.
In that moment, Link joined the growing ranks of some 20 million other Americans - many employed by corporations, industries and mom-and-pop shops, but also public sector employees like him - who have lost their livelihoods during the punishing economy wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The museum's only paid employee, Link, a gregarious man with a drawl that immediately gives away his Southern roots, appreciated the paycheck from the $9-an-hour gig. But it was serving as the gatekeeper to the deep and at times troubling history of this town - home to both a Japanese internment camp and a landmark aviation mission - that gave him true purpose.
"In life, I try not to harp on the bad things," the 61-year-old said on a recent afternoon, while standing outside the A-framed museum, which now has a chain-link fence blocking the driveway.
"But first thing to go is the history museum?" he said. "It's actually surprising."
Down the road a ways, Marie Garcia spends her days inside the near empty Ramona's Cafe. She opened the restaurant in 2006 and named it for her late mother, whose green chile, menudo and gordita recipes inspired the current menu. Since the state has only allowed restaurants to open at 25% capacity and Ramona's only has seven tables and a small staff, she's barely getting by.
She worries a lot at night, wondering how she can keep from laying off her employees.
"Everyone needs work and we are fighting to keep everyone on board," she said
As the U.S. death toll from the pandemic passed 200,000 this week and Congress remains stalled over a possible new relief package, many states, and the municipalities they help fund, continued to hemorrhage cash amid ongoing shutdowns. Strapped for money, many states, including New Mexico, have had to slash funding that would normally trickle down to its counties and cities, including Lordsburg, located just off Interstate 10 in the southwestern corner of the state.