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Faces of the downturn: Utah's middle class under fire

Published September 3, 2011 7:24 am
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Coralie Seright, 29, a mother of three in Magna, says her family's household income hasn't changed in three years. Husband Clint, 31, a Salt Lake County corrections officer, has been told he won't get a raise for at least another year. That's made it tough to absorb rising prices for food, health insurance and other necessities. To cope, the Serights clip coupons, stock up on goods and watch their spending. Pleasures such as movies and once-a-week meals out are no more. When they look down the road, the future looks daunting. "I really feel like our [middle-class] status is slipping," Coralie said.

Jaren Angerbauer, 43, lives in Holladay. He started a technology consulting firm after getting laid off from a tech job in 2008. Although the venture is doing well, the husband and father of five worries about providing health insurance coverage for his family. CHIP, the Children's Health Insurance Program, covers his kids. But he had to purchase a policy for his wife, who is pregnant. Saving for retirement is a worry because he cashed out his 401(k) to cover expenses while he was unemployed. "Sometimes I wonder — when I get to 65 or 70, am I going to be working at Walmart?" he said.

Marcia Timmins, discerns trouble wherever she looks. The Herriman businesswoman says income from the business she and her husband own is down by almost half since 2008. Her daughter is saddled with student-loan debt. A relative is upside-down in his mortgage; because of falling real estate prices along the Wasatch Front, he owes $150,000 more than his house is worth. Her brother-in-law can find only contract work that doesn't provide health insurance. "Middle-class security is long gone," Timmins said. "People are depressed. It's like Russia in the winter of 1916."



Ruth and Brett Anderson, in their 50s, are trying to start over at a time when the West Valley City couple ought to be contemplating retirement. He lost his cabinet-making job after the real estate bubble popped, and he doesn't think he will ever get it back. "Ah, the recession," said Ruth Anderson, who works in a warehouse. "I worry every day how we are going to pay for everything." She has health insurance but has put off visits to the eye doctor and dentist because she can't justify paying her share of the bill if there is food to buy or another bill to pay.

Edmund Bench, 66, farms in Duchesne County. Wife Patty, 60, is a school teacher. Volatile prices and fickle weather make agriculture treacherous, but no less perilous than the ups and downs of the stock market. Ten years ago, the couple felt they were getting ahead by investing in stocks. "Then the downturn began," he said. The Dow dropped 54 percent from October 2007 to September 2009, when it bottomed out. The index is still off more than 20 percent. He would give anything to know how much further stocks will fall and whether they will ever fully recover. "It's discouraging."

Gerald Gunning, 62, a manager at a brick manufacturer, thinks America is in trouble. Many high-income people have fallen into the middle class, and many people once comfortably settled in the middle class have fallen out. "People are slipping down," the South Jordan resident said. He speaks with the authority of experience. His pay and bonuses have been cut. Retirement planned for no later than 65 has been postponed at least five years, thanks to the stock market collapse, falling home values and his smaller income. "I'm just thankful I have a job and my wife is employed, too."

Angela and Scott Burton live in Tooele with their five kids. Normally, his impending job transfer to Seattle might be cause for celebration. But the Burtons bought their house during the boom years, before the real estate market collapsed. The couple also made more than $20,000 in improvements to the home. Because existing-home prices are down 15 percent since the recession started, they dare to ask only what they paid five years ago for their house. "When you look at what we've put into it, it's definitely a loss," Angela said.

Charlyne and Bill Craven, both 77, say the specter of rising health care costs overshadows an otherwise secure middle-income retirement. The couple, who live in the Cache County town of Providence, recently were shocked to discover that a medication prescribed for him costs more than $400 for a one-month supply. "If something really goes wrong, even with insurance, it could wipe us out,'' she said. She believes that for years, Congress and the president have focused too much on wealthy Americans at the expense of middle-class people such as themselves.

Cleve Jenkins, an 80-year-old widower who lives in Midvale, pays the health insurance premiums out of his retirement income for his 51-year-old daughter, a cancer survivor. Jenkins' son and daughter-in-law go without insurance because they can't afford the premiums. He said rising costs for health care, food and gasoline are pushing him down the economic ladder. "Home prices go down and my property taxes still go up," he said. "You go to the grocery store, and something that last week was $3.59 is $3.69 this week. When will it end?"

 

 

 

 

 

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