In 1984, a reporter from the Wall Street Journal drew a sharp and sobering portrait of Peoria as it slogged through the recession that hit America near the end of Ronald Reagan’s first term as President.

Unemployment rates and interest rates were high; area farmers were struggling with a recent drought and a poor export market; and Peoria’s manufacturing sector was limping forward.

The Journal reporter focused, notably, on the travails of the Carver Center—a once-thriving community institution that was facing increasing demand for its health care services even as its United Way funding was being cut.

In part because the House Majority Leader was none other than Peoria’s GOP Congressman Robert Michel, the story of Peoria’s ambivalent relationship to Reagan’s policies opened onto a larger national story: how the GOP stopped talking about “dependency” on the federal government when more and more citizens needed federal assistance to make it through tough times.