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TimeSpace: Half A Tank
TimeSpace: Half A Tank

Post photographer Michael Williamson is traveling across the country covering the economic situation.

A (Borrowed) Room With A View

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Anita Prins moved in with relatives in Colorado after losing her own business and home in Michigan. Photo by Michael Williamson/The Washington Post

SILVERTHORNE, Colo.--Anita Prins sits on a balcony, watching the last of the day's sun slip across a lake and disappear behind a row of mountains. As the sky turns dark, so do her thoughts.

“There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t cry,” she says. “I don’t see myself as a bottom feeder at all, but I am kind of there when you think about it.”

Like many adults who have found themselves with no choice but to ride out the recession on the couches of relatives, Anita is a 36-year-old who once knew success but now lives in borrowed space, eats donated food and relies on free transportation to get around.

Not even the balcony view is hers. The condo belongs to her aunt and uncle and Anita splits her nights between there and a cousin’s empty apartment about 15 miles away. Before the economy sent much of the nation tumbling, Anita stood on ground that appeared more solid than most. The daughter of a vice chancellor of a college, she had a middle class upbringing, two college degrees and an industrial design business that earned her an average of $110 an hour. But then work slowed down, money dwindled and she lost both the house she rented out and the condo she lived in. She sold the former and saw the latter fall into foreclosure.

“I had everything I wanted--everything,” she says. “I had financial security. I had two homes. I had a great boyfriend. I had an outstanding social life. I could get massages and pedicures when I wanted.”

"And now," I ask, "what’s the hardest part?"

"I don’t have my independence anymore."

Michael and I met Anita at the Elks Lodge in Silverthorne. We had gone there after seeing an ad in the local newspaper for a “Free Community Dinner.” Volunteer organizer Deborah Hage said the weekly dinners started in March in response to growing unemployment and underemployment in the area. From March until June, volunteers have served 3,145 people, of whom 1,291 were children.

“We took a small idea and it exploded,” Hage said.

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Gaemme Orduno, 9, gets fed by her mother, Celia. Gaemme's father works in construction and so the family has felt the slow down. Photo by Michael Williamson/The Washington Post

On the night Michael and I went, the room was a mix of families, some with steady work who came for the sense of community, and others with sporadic pay who said the roast beef was the first quality meat they'd had in a while. In the same room, horse trainers sat next to welders who sat next to hotel maids.

“There’s no such thing as security anymore for anyone,” said Sara Cook, 31. “People can lose their jobs anytime.”

Her husband is an welder who works for a family business that has seen declining demand for its services. In the past, if someone walked with a job, the company might inform the customer that there'd be a wait of two or three months. Now, they're ready to roll into action within the week. Sara also works, taking care of a house that is rented out to tourists. It's not a lucrative job, but she can bring her children along. She has three and a fourth on the way.

“We feel like we’re barely making it,” Sara said. “There are always bills to pay and work is unreliable. I worry about the future."

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Two-year-old Rhett Cook works on his first of two ears of corn. His mother, Sara Cook, said the family is "barely making it" since her husband's hours as a welder have been cut. Photo by Michael Williamson/The Washington Post

At the next table Aaron Soto, 49, sat with his family. He works at a restaurant, but said he had friends who worked in construction and had to leave the area because jobs dried up while rents remained high.

“In past years, there were plenty of jobs for everyone,” he said in Spanish. “In the past months, there has been nothing.”

His family moved to the area from Mexico seven years ago, drawn by its natural beauty, but he said it's hard to maintain a life here.

“If we don’t work today, tomorrow we don’t eat,” he said. “Here, we ate meat today, but in the house, many times, it’s just beans.”

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Gus Garcia, who works in recycling, said business has not kept up with the cost of living in the area. Photo by Michael Williamson/The Washington Post

Just two tables away, Robert Bengtson sat worrying about the second job that he needed to pay an overdue electric bill and buy school clothes for an 11-year-old girl who starts middle school later this month. A post office clerk, he was supposed to deal cards that night for a legal poker game, but the event was canceled because it wasn’t generating enough money. He had found out just before dinner and said he was still "trying to let it sink in."

“They think because he’s working at the post office and he’s making good money, that we should be doing well,” said his wife, Windy Eubank, 41.

But Bengtson earns about $20,000 – too much for the family to qualify for government assistance and not enough to keep his children, aqes 2, 11 and 16, fed without going to three food banks. Windy said she hasn’t been able to pay the utilities in five months and fears every day that their power will be turned off.

“If one bad thing happens, it’s just going to take everything down,” she said, adding that she has applied for jobs at gas stations, groceries stores and hotels, but has found nothing. “I think that’s the most stressful thing, knowing your foundation can crumble from one day to the next.”

When Michael and I met Anita, she was not sitting at a table eating. She was a volunteer, getting ready to serve watermelon for the night. Like us, she had seen the ad in the newspaper.

Under her apron, she wore a t-shirt and work-out pants, one of three outfits she has left, she said. Her closet, like her life, has been whittled down to the essentials.

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Anita Prins jokes with those in line at the "Community Dinner." Photo by Michael Williamson/The Washington Post

“I’ve gone from a whole house and condominium full of furniture and a closet full of clothes and I’m down to living on what I brought with me in one carry-on,” she said.

The rest of her belongings remain in six plastic bins in her parents’ garage in Grand Rapids. She had moved in with them after the bank foreclosed on her condo, but she said it strained their relationship to the point that they sought counseling. “My moving in just turned their world upside down,” Anita said. “What I constantly heard from them is, ‘You can’t change me.’ But I’m not trying to change you. I’m changed.” In May, relatives offered her places to stay in Colorado, and she accepted, selling her bicycle for $180 and putting the money toward her one-way ticket.

"I have nothing," she said. That means no cell phone, no car. The website she created for her business will expire in a few days. She said she has also lost friends who didn’t know how to deal with her or her new circumstances.

"What did you want them to say?" I asked.

“We’re here, I love you, I’m thinking of you,” she said. “People believe they need to fix it and they need to say or do the perfect thing. All a human being needs is a touch or a very simple token of sharing love.”

Instead of asking how the job hunt was going, she said, they could have tried to understand the subtleties of what she was going through – how it feels to go from "being fashionable to now putting on the same clothes everyday," or how it hurts to not only lose one's place as a professional but to not be able to keep even a low-paying job. She had a position as a waitress, but was let go after three weeks without explanation.

“When I was graduating high school, my goal was not to be single and unemployed and homeless at 36,” she said.

Recently, she found a part-time job at a bed and breakfast and said she is thinking about moving out of her relatives' condos and into there. She has also decided not to return to the community dinner, mostly because it's too easy for her to rely on that for her food. Instead, she said, she is trying to be more independent.

“I need to have that back again to lift my spirits," she said, "and to give me a sense of I can do this."

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Anita Prins, who has lost her home and business, saw an ad in the newspaper for the "Community Dinner" and volunteered. Photo by Michael Williamson/The Washington Post

By Theresa Vargas  |  August 17, 2009; 12:21 PM ET
 
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Next: Below The Surface In Colorado

Comments

While you were off this weekend WaPo had somebody else do a story on how tough it is to survive in a multi-million dollar mansion in NY on $300k a year. I guess they figured to give us both sides of the story, you know "Fair and Balanced"? Hah! Glad to see you back on the job.
By the way, it's getting crowded here in the back seat. Can you stop at the next rest area and drop off some of these empty coffee cups and fast food wrappers :}

Posted by: jimbo1949 | August 17, 2009 3:04 PM | Report abuse

Glad you're back!

And jimbo1949 is looking out my window! ;)

Posted by: forget@menot.com | August 17, 2009 3:15 PM | Report abuse

"But Bengtson earns about $20,000 – too much for the family (himself, wife, 3 kids) to qualify for government assistance...."

How in the world can $20,000 be considered too much to qualify for government assistance? That's $10 per hour. A single individual can't make it on that $$$, much less a family of five!

Posted by: scooter964 | August 17, 2009 4:49 PM | Report abuse

A very powerful and moving story.

Posted by: affirmativeactionpresident | August 17, 2009 4:56 PM | Report abuse

Thanks for asking her what she wanted folks to say to her. I needed to know.

Posted by: randolyn1 | August 17, 2009 5:01 PM | Report abuse

A much better story than the ones about the poor millionaire baseball wives or the divorcee to stupid to see she couldn't afford a mansion on a $150,000 base salary.

I really feel for the people in THIS story.

Posted by: oldiesfan1 | August 17, 2009 5:05 PM | Report abuse

people should have saved for the rainy day.

I did and I'm fine. Schools need to teach kids how to manage money. Plus, everything obozo does is creating long term deficits that will keep the USA in debt to the rest of the World forever.

Posted by: charlietuna666 | August 17, 2009 5:06 PM | Report abuse

It's about time we place this depression/recession foursquare where it belongs.

And that is right in the middle of the lap of the Republican Party.

It's about time we spoke the truth about Ronald Reagan, George Bush and George Bush. And in nuts and bolt terms explain how their policies got us to where the bulwark of our democracy, the American Middle Class, has been decimated.

Refresh Americas' memory of the success of Bill Clinton.

Explain precisely how these lousy Republicans did what they did and how they use limbaugh and company to MISINFORM, lie, spew hate,deceive, misrepresent and distort events in a manner to suit their hateful, divisive and very narrow agenda.

I am certain that amongst the stories you are publishing there are Republican voters who fell for the garbage being passed off to them as reality.

They need an accurate explanation.

And the Republican Party must be BLAMED. Cause it's so.

Posted by: jato11 | August 17, 2009 5:07 PM | Report abuse

Inquiring minds want to know...

Is Aaron Soto, the man who "moved" to Colorado an illegal alien?

If so, he is part of the problem.

The Pew Hispanic Foundation estimates that 8 million jobs are currently held by illegal aliens. If the government were serious about the well being of the American people, it would pass the SAVE Act which would mandate workplace identification.

Removing those millions from jobs to which they are not entitled would go a long way to putting jobless citizens and legal immigrants back to work.

But the Dems would rather pander to hispanics in order to create a permanent D-majority than treat honest Americans fairly.

Posted by: BerkeleyBW | August 17, 2009 5:09 PM | Report abuse

These are the people the rabid right is fighting to keep exactly where they are... Priceless.

Posted by: OleLadySquawking | August 17, 2009 5:09 PM | Report abuse

It's great that Anita is trying to re-establish her independence. She seems much more realistic. As far as the families mentioned, why, if you already have THREE children you can barely afford, are you having ANOTHER baby?? Who is going to cover the costs of a 4th child?? Or have they not thought that far ahead?

Posted by: ms1234 | August 17, 2009 5:12 PM | Report abuse

Prins, Is not done, by along shot.

She(sic) will win, Prins is a winner, moreover she is a fighter.

Prins, will get tired, of being sick & tired, and will overcome this personal downturn.

Keep Fighting Girl !!!!

Posted by: dashriprock | August 17, 2009 5:14 PM | Report abuse

charlietuna666 just pray that a really rainy day never hits you. Because a rainy day can turn into a flood and before you know it, just like the woman in this story, you will find youself adrift with no where to go. You just don't get it Charlie, do you? OUR President (yours and mine) is not the cause of the financial state this country finds itself in. It was in the making for for the pasat 8 years.

Posted by: OHREALLYNOW | August 17, 2009 5:20 PM | Report abuse

I just wanted to say thank you, Theresa and Michael, and to The Washington Post for such a well-written, inspiring, and beautiful series. This is journalism at its finest, and it has been a pleasure to read.

Posted by: emiloch | August 17, 2009 5:23 PM | Report abuse

I got hit pretty hard by the mass downsizings in the early 90s. Eight years of college, and I still got two pink slips in less than two years. Sold my home, spent what little money I made off the sale, spent my savings, took odd jobs, lived in a cheap apartment on the edge of a really podunk town for about a year. But I hung in there, changed to a different line of work that would allow me to freelance if necessary, and gradually worked my way back into the middle class. I have been steadily employed since December 1996. Bought another home, rebuilt my savings, and put down some roots. Hang in there, people. If I could make a comeback, you can too.

Posted by: n_mcguire | August 17, 2009 5:37 PM | Report abuse

she's pretty hot

Posted by: griffmills | August 17, 2009 5:38 PM | Report abuse

What a wonderful article and such beautiful photographs. And the comments are interesting too - especially the one thanking the writer for including what this young lady needed to hear from her parents and friends. Perfectly done. Of course we have the usual "blame the immigrants/blame parents with some-jerk's-version of too many kids" comments from the lack of empathy crowd. Why do people do this? Can't they just be moved by this, or relate to it in any way? A very articulate woman and good reporter have just done an excellent job of telling you how a loss like this feels. I'm sure more people appreciate that, than are critical of it. I certainly hope so, anyway.

Posted by: madlyf | August 17, 2009 5:38 PM | Report abuse

It is good to have a suggestion to say to people suffering a reversal of fortune. Our situation remains stable, but several people we love are suffering. We help one with the electric bill, one with tires and food, another with property taxes. It seems like so little, the help we give is so small. Yet, if we give away too much, we risk our income falling and won't have anything to fall back on. Yet, it seems wrong to have savings when 4 of our loved ones are suffering. I lie awake worrying what will happen to them, yet feel paralyzed beyond helping with day to day crises, one day at a time. There is no contentment or happiness when loved ones struggle with loss of security and necessities.

Posted by: mac3919 | August 17, 2009 5:39 PM | Report abuse

I really like this series.

Anita Prins never had a business likes she thinks she did - all she ever had was a job as a contractor that she, apparently, did not understand. I've seen lots of 'contractors' go through this. Most contractors had, or were offered, jobs but turned them down because they thought they were 'entrepreneurs' or business people. But they were only hired help. They were just too stuck-up, living the high life with condos, BMWs and manicures, to face the reality. No Anita Prins was never a business owner, just another person living beyond their means who is now paying the price. Live and learn Anita.

The Sotos sound like they are here illegally and need to be given the gift of a bus ride back to Mexico. They've been in the U.S. for seven years but, like most mexicans, never bothered, not even for a few minutes, to attempt to learn to speak the English language. Good riddance.

Posted by: Heerman532 | August 17, 2009 5:42 PM | Report abuse

Jato, you're nuts! The problem isn't the Republicans, hey as I remember it the CRA came into its own under Clinton.

The problem is politics as a profession. These fools like big government, and many of us feel THAT is the problem. Government keeps expanding, growing and growing having ever more power when the simplest solution is to REDUCE government. The Constitution lays out some legitimate functions of the federal government, but Washington chooses to ignore that. While I don't explicitly support term limits, perhaps it would solve a few of our problems.

Hard to imagine the so-dalled "Stimulus Package" solving many of Anita's problems.

Posted by: rapp1 | August 17, 2009 5:53 PM | Report abuse

It's not just a tutorial on savings... because you can run through your savings and still get here.

Through the Greenspan era (Including Bush AND Clinton), we've pumped the bubble with massive liquidity. Now... all the people that didn't understand what that meant are going to pay while inflated prices get unraveled.

This is a story of what happens when leaders fail. Fair to say, “Republicans sponsored the ideas creating this mess.” But, also fair to say, “Democrats either went along and got paid OR found it against their Personal Political Viability to fight what they know as wrong.”

Until there are independent ethics committee, bribery of public officials carries mandatory life-without-parole, bribery is defined as “getting something in return for legislation” , AND prosecutions are done through offices independent of branch being prosecuted…. Repeat until the country is dead…. Or China’s colony.

Posted by: callmeishmael1 | August 17, 2009 6:07 PM | Report abuse

Thanks for the article. I have been angry all weekend about the $300,000 a year woman. These people are really suffering and that individual worries about paying the yard man.

Posted by: EFDTN | August 17, 2009 6:12 PM | Report abuse

Do ya think she will be smart enough to support the health care reform bill, now that she is part of the 47 million uninsured?

Posted by: bienda | August 17, 2009 6:15 PM | Report abuse

Thanks for getting out and talking to "real" people and reporting on what you saw and heard. My thoughts and prayers are with all these individuals. I hope they all maintain their dignity, and self-respect, and experience the joy and satisfaction of earning a living wage again soon. No one is immune to economic problems, and pointing fingers is childish and unproductive.

Posted by: samuelogilvie | August 17, 2009 6:23 PM | Report abuse

I think this winter will be tough.

Posted by: millionea7 | August 17, 2009 6:33 PM | Report abuse

These articles are so well written - for a few minutes, I feel like I'm inside the subject's life. I've enjoyed all the articles about the rich and the not so rich, everyone is feeling this mess in their own way. I feel sad for each one of them and hope for better days for all.

Posted by: MILWI | August 17, 2009 6:39 PM | Report abuse

Why is this necessarily particular segment the counterpoint to the piece on the 300,000 woman with 3 kids in NY?
This woman had her own business and owned two homes.
And that is "poor"?
Oh, because she is so down and depressed (one can only imagine the stress and alienation) that she is "better" than the mother with 3 kids?
In their own way, they got sucked into the myth.
One is down and the other one will probably die for mold and mildew allergies from her nasty basement.

I am more interested in the folks who were dining at the community dinner.
Yeah, the real folks.

Posted by: Chatelaine | August 17, 2009 6:53 PM | Report abuse

I just want to cry. For Anita. For all Americans who are facing this dilemma right now. It seems as there is no end in sight. And, it seems so complicated. We all have our stories. And, they will be just that some day. But some, truly, should not be suffering like they are. Right decisions? Wrong decisions? What does it matter when the world has been upside-down for so long now. So long it has been, we now have a class of "the smugs" and "the smugs-not". Chin up and god-speed. See you on the other side of this debacle. We will prevail...

Posted by: mmrafferty | August 17, 2009 6:57 PM | Report abuse

Nice story. She seems very credible and I feel terrible for her. Unfortunately most of us know someone like her, or perhaps may be living as she now does. However, it does seem that there is a lesson to be learned: live simply.

Do not graduate college with student loan debt. If you can't obtain scholarships then attend community college for as long as possible or join the military and have the DOD pay your college tuition. If you make "$110/hr", live like you make $25/hour; if you make $40/hr, live like you make $20/hr. Skip the massages and pedicures. Buy one modest, small and inexpensive house. And only if you plan on living in it for twenty or more years. I can't speak to her specific situation but I wouldn't be surprised if she did what millions of other people did and bought at the higher range of the mortgage for which she qualified. Buy a reliable cheap used car and drive it until it dies. Don't ever expect your income to rise. Take advantage of every opportunity to save money on a pre-tax basis (401K, 403B, IRA etc) and invest the funds in the cheapest index funds available and be prepared to not touch the money until you are at least 59 1/2. Get a job that offers good benefits-sacrifice some income for benefits.

Preach the lessons to your loved ones and always ignore the "Jonses".

Posted by: c_e_daniel | August 17, 2009 7:02 PM | Report abuse

So very moving. Thank you.

By the way, commenters who are wagging fingers at the interviewees: Please remember that absolutely no one is guaranteed a life free of cataclysmic events and reversals of fortune.

Posted by: Vivi2 | August 17, 2009 7:26 PM | Report abuse

Cry for Anita?
Oh Lord. She's depressed and fortunately, has relatives who live in scenic places who give her a place to crash. (And what happened to her sleazy boyfriend?)
I'm crying for Robert Bengtson, the guy who makes "too much" to get government assistance. That's just not right. Are benefits based on where you live?
Now, that's a story but they are probably not as photogenic as is Anita's.

Posted by: Chatelaine | August 17, 2009 7:30 PM | Report abuse

I can't believe Anita lost everything, yet is volunteering to help others! If what happened to her happened to me, I would be too busy wallowing in self-pity and desperation for it to even OCCUR to me to help other people! Wow.

Posted by: marinejen | August 17, 2009 7:34 PM | Report abuse

Someone said that people should have learned how to save for a rainy day. Well, now that they are saving instead of spending (the savings rate is up, no doubt due to fear), I read economists blaming the savers for sinking this recovery!
Jerks.

Posted by: KathyWi | August 17, 2009 7:45 PM | Report abuse

I feel bad for her, but this is a definite lesson to keep aside a 8 month emergency savings fund and live within your means.

Posted by: ASW02 | August 17, 2009 7:48 PM | Report abuse

Mass unemployment is another wonderful gift from the Republican Party during the Bush years. Their message to all of us was, "You can make it on your own. You don't need the government to help you." Now, like Ms. Prins, many of us get to try out that old fashioned "independence."

Posted by: jchaney | August 17, 2009 7:50 PM | Report abuse

Too many people are suffering financially to the point of total poverty. Now is not the time to showel more money (which exists only on paper) into dubious, permanent, social programs like government take-over of health care, which will cost trillions, but instead helping people to wheather their financial storms until they get back on their feet. A government hand temporarily extended is a good idea, not a government take-over.

Posted by: Tommypie | August 17, 2009 7:55 PM | Report abuse

Two houses? Pretty short sited, it would seem. However, she should be thankful that she has her health. In reality, the rest is trivial.

Posted by: joe_average | August 17, 2009 7:59 PM | Report abuse

Half a tank? Someone stole my gas tank. And it was full.

Posted by: PMartini | August 17, 2009 8:06 PM | Report abuse

Maybe instead of sporadic, freewheeling, fun-filled girls nights out for pedicures and massages she should have “Saved” some of that money? ... but wait, what is this “Saved Money” you speak of?? (*see SNL skit)

ps - nice photo op, very dramatic! Staring into the abyss “what do I do now...”

Posted by: obsv234 | August 17, 2009 8:10 PM | Report abuse

This series should be re-titled for clarification - "Half Tank don't me get far in my Escalde...."

Posted by: obsv234 | August 17, 2009 8:16 PM | Report abuse

This recession is hitting us all hard. I am at the bottom as well with 3 kids ages 20 (special needs bipolar) 18 (cerebral palsy) and a healthy 8 year old. Prior to being laid off 1 year ago, I took care of my kids with private insurance and income from working. I am also recently divorced. I have lost everything and am now applying for SSI so that my kids can go to the doctors and get the specialized treatment they need. Im on my mother's couch but will go to a shelter in the morning its just too much for her to have us here with especially with the special needs kids. I can not wait until this is over hopefully we will survive....hopefully America will survive.

Posted by: carodgers20772 | August 17, 2009 8:20 PM | Report abuse

Can you guys do a story on the California I -5 signs that read
This Congress created dust bowl?

It is soon to hit the food chain in prices and foreign outsourcing for our groceries, that may or may not be healthy resources.

I don't care for pizz prunes, sewage spinach, radiation melons much, that can come from Foreign farms.


Rather than building water desalination plants and pipelining clear water to the fields of the Jolly green giant....Pelosi appears to want a facelift , private jets, and poppy field afgan black tar heroine deep pocket take, on her schools street corners.
Will it mean problems for the people in the USA? Of course, if no one is suffering how can Congress look down on people and call them astroturf to walk on....right?

Posted by: dottydo | August 17, 2009 8:29 PM | Report abuse

I believe Anita is a person who will bounce back. She appears to have worked hard in college and in getting her initial business started. Problem is she was raised in the higher education academic environment where productivity and living within a budget is not important.

I would give odds that all those interviewed voted for Obama as president. Too bad they did not really see they type of change that was coming.

Posted by: georgiarat | August 17, 2009 8:42 PM | Report abuse

A powerful and moving piece of modern Americana, Theresa and Michael. Each of your photographs add at least a thousand words as usual, Michael. I am very impressed with Anita's willingness to share her experience on a down slide during her career. Pride goeth before destruction. I've always searched eagerly for new outlets for my unique talents when the local or national economy slides. Years working alone in rural Puerto Rico ('79 - '80), India (late 80s) and Haiti (90s) taught me that the bottom is a lot deeper than most people living in developed countries will ever realize. Third world residents taught me a great deal about the part of our universe living on a dollar a day, or less. Many of the other aid workers I encountered during those projects were single women. Again it comes down to a test of humility. When my business slumped to a 10th of the 2007's income I prepared to move to rural Panama, near the border with Costa Rica. A major corporation threw me a lifeline just weeks before I was to depart with little more than my camera, a copy of Who Moved My Cheese and a mosquito net. Extreme flexibility like mine is no longer an idiosyncratic anomaly, it is a required survival skill. I actually teach older people how to live outside U.S. borders in my evenings. There's a world of opportunity waiting for the humble.

Posted by: thw2001 | August 17, 2009 8:43 PM | Report abuse

Just a note to those who are either blaming the current or the most recent administrations... these problems have been growing and festering since consumerism took hold of our society - that would be in the mid-1800's. We should teach our children to ignore the Joneses, but also that fame and/or fortune should not be the end all, be all. Our neighbors should be more important than a second house or a third car.

Posted by: cooprego1 | August 17, 2009 8:57 PM | Report abuse

Like marinejen, I would like to salute Anita for volunteering for this community dinner evening.
Anita, there's got to be something out there for you.
There but for the grace of God ... go a lot of us.
Back in 2003, right after the military tried to activate my 33-year veteran reservist for Iraq (he was put on hold for some medication he was taken and it was suggested he retire because, at 58, he only had about 18 months to go to mandatory retirement), the company he worked for laid him off later in the year, after 20 years with them.
He was too young to get Social Security, too old for most employment.
He took a temporary job with a large retailer and entered "Teacher Builder" to acquire his teaching certificate (he had his degree).
Within 2 years, he began teaching high-school computer graphics.
I'm getting my Social Security; he's getting veteran's retirement and next year, he will take maximum Social Security and continue teaching.
We live a much more reserved lifestyle than we used to live, but we're still happy.
As I read about all these people, I have no doubt that they can't afford medical insurance.
(Does the postal worker have insurance?)
Down in our area, most of the younger people we know routinely expend $6K to 8K for their family health insurance.
Up East, I read, it can be routinely up to $12K per year for insurance.
I'm willing to take bets that the number of uninsured in this nation is double, maybe triple that 47M figure they spout all the time.
That figure comes out of the 2000 census.
There but for the grace of God go a lot of us.

Posted by: Judy-in-TX | August 17, 2009 8:57 PM | Report abuse

Pretty crazy. Why is it that everybody else is the problem, eh? Read the article. Mom, Dad, boyfriend, banks, employers, relatives, friends,....

OK, all the crazy folks in the world blame Bush.

And we have someone who believes the signs on I-5 are sending messages.

Tin foil hats.

No. You are not out of work because of Bush.

Posted by: fdffjdjjf-0999--88888 | August 17, 2009 9:02 PM | Report abuse

There are 330 million-plus Americans on this planet of some 6.7 billion. Give me any economic system, at any point in history, and I promise you I can fill a blog with heart rending stories of misfortune, injustice, inequity, and pathos.

To the coterie of mental midgets in this forum who wish to assign blame to any single party or individual, I hope you have strong backs. Because you're not going to survive on brain power.

Posted by: jd5024 | August 17, 2009 9:04 PM | Report abuse

Well said jd5024. I can gurantee our little pedicurred friend a job; that is if she can lower herself to the dreaded "how can I help you?" It's not about being over qualified, it's about checking your ego. Get up each morning and move bricks (one at a time) if that's what it takes.

Posted by: obsv234 | August 17, 2009 9:20 PM | Report abuse

“They think because he’s working at the post office and he’s making good money, that we should be doing well,” said his wife, Windy Eubank, 41.

But Bengtson earns about $20,000 –
------

That doesn't make sense. Unless he's a contracted carrier, I'd think he'd be covered in the APWU or some other union. To my knowledge, ALL non mgmt postal employees are union - except rural contract carriers. Clerks, mail handlers, motor vehicle service drivers, and carriers make good $ AND benefits.

Posted by: itsagreatday1 | August 17, 2009 9:25 PM | Report abuse

If all her money went away that quickly, then one questions how she managed her personal finances, which is, solely her business to answer. It's nice to be successful in a personal business, but also nice to plan for all possible outcomes, especially economic downturns that affect your earnings. Doesn't look like she planned well enough.

Posted by: dlkimura | August 17, 2009 9:55 PM | Report abuse

Why are people "waiting for this to end"? Get off your lazy ass and go get work. It is out there. And if you don't think so, you are lying to yourself. Stop relying on others for you to get ahead. Stop relying on the gov't for your well being. Stop assuming it is your right for free health insurance. Until people stand up for themselves and stop relying on the gov't they will never get ahead.

When are we going to see stories about people who are doing well right now to provide more hope and inspiration to those who have none. Show people that there are success stories out there...my company has increased revenues threefold over the last 3 years...right in the middle of this recession. How can that be? Did I get a hand out from Obama...hell no. I increased revenues by working hard and putting in the effort needed to get ahead. I am not sitting back waiting for a stimulus check. I am not waiting for the gov't to give me a loan. I am not waiting for the gov't to give me free health care. Waiting for handouts will keep you down and you will never get out of the holes the previous administrations have created (both parties included).

It reminds me of one memory at a local grocery store...a woman in front of me (along with her 3 children) racked up roughly $200 in "groceries"...chips, sodas, candy, ice cream - anything with sugar - you name it. Then she swiped a card and her total dropped to around five bucks! She looked at me, smiled, and said "that's right!" as if she was proud of living on welfare. With that atitude, she will always be on welfare. this adminsitration is pandering to people like her, and (if so - don't know for sure) the immigrant in this story to get votes and keep themselves in office. why get off welfare when the gov't will give you whatever you need to survive (alhtough 'surviving' on sugar is not a good idea). forget survival...why not do more for yourself and get ahead.

Posted by: 2010_NeverAgain | August 17, 2009 9:58 PM | Report abuse

I can't believe all the smug a**holes posting on here. It is a myth that you can just go out and get a fast food job with a college degree and a professional resume. Even if you "dumb it down." They won't hire you because you're over qualified. Even if, humility-wise, you have no problem doing the work and serving the public.

You have to put something for your work history. And if your work history is in an office, they are not going to hire you at McDonald's or Dunkin Donuts. I know - I've tried. You smug a**holes haven't tried, and you don't know. So STFU please.

Posted by: cmcm1 | August 17, 2009 10:13 PM | Report abuse

Who said anything about fast food?

Posted by: 2010_NeverAgain | August 17, 2009 10:30 PM | Report abuse

We need to know what percentage of Americans are going through such difficulties, and what that means in their everyday lives. How many have lost their life savings, their homes, their jobs, their pensions, their health and their dignity? What has become of them? That is what we need to hear on a regular basis and from people who care. --- We don't need more and more on those who profited from their plight, then received plenty of public money to pull them out of their bottomless holes.

It is time we be told what the true socio-economic situation has become for most people, in America, and in every part of the country. That has been hidden long enough behind what are known to be misleading, manipulated statistics, so as to avoid having to use the D word.

There are very tough times ahead and, as responsible citizens, we need to be made fully aware of that.

Posted by: Citizenofthepost-Americanworld | August 17, 2009 10:35 PM | Report abuse

Why are people making angry and judgemental comments about people they don't even know? It's the democrats/republicans fault! It's the immigrants fault! (They're too lazy to work // they're stealing our jobs.) It's the single mothers' fault! Can't we just be nice to each other and maybe a little forgiving?

Posted by: bridgebones | August 17, 2009 10:47 PM | Report abuse

For myself, and I hope for others, this recession has taught me that when you borrow money, you are under the thumb of the lender. You are not free. I am digging out now, and when I get totally debt-free, I will never borrow another dime from anyone. Screw the credit scoring agencies.

Posted by: lnbee | August 17, 2009 10:48 PM | Report abuse

This woman lost it all, never claimed she deserved it once, and now helps others in a soup kitchen. What do you do? You criticize. She doesn't need someone to tell her she screwed up in one way or another.

You're not as strong as you believe. It's obvious from your negative posts. The truly strong protect the weak and helpless, those down on their luck. You are just weak minded fools that look down on these people, simply to convince yourself you're above it. You're not.

I pray that one day the truly strong are let loose on you all. You'll cry out to God but there will be no answer.

Posted by: shedao | August 17, 2009 10:53 PM | Report abuse

I feel bad for Ms. Prins because I'm in the same situation--consultant hit by the downturn. On the other hand I can't empathize one bit with her dismay at loss of social prestige, yuppie luxuries like massages and vacation homes, etc. Really, she has a roof over her head, she's not starving, and she'll ultimately regain her footing when things turn around. I feel more for the people in the article who are trying to make do for their kids. There's no greater misery than watching your kids suffer because you can't provide for them.

Posted by: alloleo | August 17, 2009 10:53 PM | Report abuse

On lending...banks are no longer equity lenders, they are now only debt lenders...what does this mean for business?...the end of the road if they need loans to help with payroll, accounts receiveables, etc. Banks say it is too risky to loan equity. I say it is too risky to jump out of planes...and that is why I am not a skydiver. Banks are in the business of loaning money to people and businesses (especially to to help small businesses cover payroll until their customers pay up) and when they choose not to take risks, they should get out of the business all together.

so how does this tie into this article...don't give up and wait for a handout. if you can't get loans with banks, find friends, family, factors, hard equity lenders, whomeever...do what it takes to get the job done (of course there is a fine line to follow too or else you would lose your equity in the company - maybe you have to though to survive). don't just wait for it to happen, because it won't.

Posted by: 2010_NeverAgain | August 17, 2009 10:57 PM | Report abuse

" feel bad for her, but this is a definite lesson to keep aside a 8 month emergency savings fund and live within your means."

Conventional wisdom used to be that you should have a 3-month emergency fund, then changed to 6-month, now it's 8-12 months. Maybe next year we'll be saying that people need a 2-year emergency fund.

I personally get tired of complaints about people not living within their means. Just because someone lives a higher lifestyle doesn't mean that they are not living within their means. Countless people lived within their means and had savings but now are struggling or have lost everything because their 'means' changed. The loss of available employment and lack of affordable health care in this country is appalling.

People point fingers and place blame on others for their perceived lack of personal responsibility because it's easier to blame others for their misfortunes than to think that it's all a crapshoot and it's possible for any of us to end up hungry and homeless.

Posted by: anonmom | August 17, 2009 11:10 PM | Report abuse

Yes, she's photogenic but Google her name and look at her resume and tell me you can picture being employed in any capacity. She obviously quickly squandered every $110.00 she ever had in her fingers. Now she has to skip a massage? Oh the humanity.....

Posted by: mark2004a1 | August 18, 2009 12:53 AM | Report abuse

The wonderful CEOs (and other corporate officers) should read this story and be ashamed of themselves for grabbing billions of "bonuses" even if they earned it, and they have not.

But they will not do either. What is happening to this country? Everyone for himself or herself only?

Posted by: steviana | August 18, 2009 2:07 AM | Report abuse

I've enjoyed this blog and I will be sad when it ends. I realize the "front-page" exposure is good for the writer and photographer, but I really hate the wing-nut commentaries that inevitably follow.

Posted by: Jumpy66 | August 18, 2009 10:59 AM | Report abuse

The woman who used to have the condo and the rental should hang her head in shame and go back to Mexico. Or should some of the others go back to Mexico. Which is it? Both?

In any case, they're all LOSERS because they didn't have 17 trillion dollars in the bank and marketable skills as bankruptcy lawyers or cocaine importers or right-wing talk-show hosts.

These are all bad people it is their own fault they are doing badly. Our country is strong & Goldman is paying big bonuses again so there is NO recession, you hear me, you lazy bums git out there and find jobs RAHT NOW.

(***********POOF*******)

Sorry. For a moment I was hallucinating and thought I was a Republican instead of another laid-off journalist in his 50s trying to make a living freelancing. Sorry about that.

Posted by: roblimo | August 18, 2009 9:39 PM | Report abuse

Posting your resume on your "website" doesn't make you a 'business owner'. Signing for properties you can't pay for doesn't make you a 'homeowner'. Showing up to sling hash once doesn't make you a 'volunteer'. Having no skills due to your poor choices in college doesn't make you a 'Victim of the Recession'. Sympathy for yuppie hosebag? Zero.

Posted by: mark2004a1 | August 19, 2009 12:12 PM | Report abuse

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