Stomachs Churn Over Rocky Economy

Plans for a government bailout don't settle the nerves of these Americans.

September 23, 2008, 1:11 PM

Sept. 23, 2008 — -- Welcome to the Alka-Seltzer economy.

Across the country, the stomachs of many Americans are churning as they watch the roller coaster ride on Wall Street, struggle with high gas prices, fight to stay in their homes and worry about the safety of their jobs.

Joan Reardon Mahoney, Jose Castillo and Atefeh Yazdi are each at very different points in their lives, looking for different things, but each is unnerved by the economy.

Mahoney wants to feel comfortable enough with her savings to finally retire. Castillo works in real estate and is struggling to stay in his home. And Yazdi wants to go to dental school but is afraid that she won't be able to pay back the loans.

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Mahoney and her late husband always saved for retirement. He was a self-employed lawyer; she worked as a counselor for pregnant women needing medical care.

"We knew that as we aged, we would need to provide for ourselves. There wasn't going to be a pension," Mahoney said.

So, each year they couple contributed the maximum to their retirement accounts.

"We felt it would provide well for us, or at least comfortably," she said.

Now at age 72, the Springfield, Ill., resident fears that she will have to continue at her part-time job indefinitely.

"The value of my account continues to go down," she said. "Sometimes I wonder if all the sacrifices we made to invest in that account were really worth it, especially when I see corporate executives bailed out of businesses that are facing bankruptcy with a retirement bonus of several million dollars."

Mahoney isn't starving and has no mortgage. But now with her Medicare supplement and prescription drug benefit payments and rising utility and gas bills, retirement looks farther and farther away.

She and her new husband would like to travel, maybe rent a place in Florida for a few months to escape the cold weather.

"That's not something we're in a position to do," she said. "Most of all I would like to engage in some volunteer efforts and just take it easy. I have arthritis and have had heart surgery and lung surgery, gone through a battle with cancer. I would like to just be able to do nothing if I wish to, but that's not what I am looking at. I've got to keep going to conserve the money I have, to make it last as long as possible."

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Across the country, in the Los Angeles suburb of Littlerock, Calif., Castillo is just struggling to stay afloat.

The 53-year-old mortgage broker can't get any of his clients loans. Banks just aren't lending and because of that he hasn't been paid in nearly a year.

He has a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage but now can't pay it. His house was apprised at $420,000 and he borrowed 80 percent of that when he last refinanced. Now the house is only worth $200,000, leaving him unable to sell and pay off his mortgage.

The federal government is bailing everybody else but for the homeowner who wants to stay in his house, who did the right thing, there's no help for him, Castillo said. "I think Congress is being irresponsible. I think that the Bush administration is being irresponsible. They have let the American people down."

Castillo has a business degree in marketing and management and is now looking to either go into property management or commercial real estate. But it's hard at his age to start over.

"The people in upper management walked away with money out of their deals. That's not right. Somebody needs to be held responsible, " he said.

Yazdi is just starting out and has a whole different set of worries.

The Mechanicsburg, Pa., resident is 27 and paying off college loans while trying to find a way to go to dental school.

"I am 27 and still living at home because I cannot afford to live on my own. I cannot get a car because with the price of gas, I would not be able to drive it," she said in an e-mail.

She invested in "safe" stocks for dental school but now feels that no stock is safe and "that I will lose everything due to the recent situation on Wall Street."

"I have probably lost $7,000," Yazdi said. "To some that is nothing. To me it is not so much, how much, but the fact that I have lost my savings when I should not have."

Yazdi graduated from Penn State because Boston University became too costly and she refused to take out more loans, knowing that more money would be needed for an advanced degree.

"I think that we the taxpayers should not have to be at a disadvantage because of the government's poor choices," she said. "I think what will happen is those on Wall Street will come out OK but it will be the American people who will lose out in the end."

"While I am against the bailout to some degree," she added, "I am not sure what other choice we have."