Ohio resident Brian Draper says the economy is bad, and he can't help but think about having to take a step back from the life he's always known.
Until recently, Draper says he didn't log specific expenses. Now, he says the rising cost of living is forcing him to make cuts, and for the first time, he is watching what he buys at the grocery store. He's buying generic brands, cutting back on going out to restaurants, trying to drive less and canceling plans to go to Disney World with his three children.
He says he's also trying to save money for a really rainy day — in case his job as a criminal investigator, or his wife's job as a nurse's assistant, falls victim to budget cutbacks.
He's not alone in his concerns about the economy. Polls show that Americans believe the economy is in bad shape — or is certainly worse than it was last year. A recent poll conducted by NPR, the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Harvard School of Public Health found that jobs are of particular concern to Ohioans. The poll surveyed people in Ohio and Florida — two likely swing states in the upcoming presidential election — and found that more than three-quarters of Ohioans say it's hard to find a job in their community.
That's certainly true for the Drapers.
Until now, stability has defined Draper's life.
The Drapers live in Shaker Heights, a racially diverse suburb of Cleveland with good schools and well-maintained lawns. Brian Draper lives in the house he grew up in. Few families ever move away. He says he wants to give his kids the same middle-class comforts he had. But that's a taller order than it was a year ago.
He works for Cuyahoga County as a criminal investigator. His wife, Shanta, works for MetroHealth, the county hospital. But the hospital recently announced layoffs, and she says she's worried there could be more.
"There was always a thought that you go into public service, you'll always have a job," Draper says as Shanta nods. "It's scary that the term 'layoff' is being spoken right now. It is kind of scary. It's kind of unnerving."
Meanwhile, in rural St. Marys, on the western edge of the state near the Indiana border, real estate agent Judy Weng has had to make her own adjustments because of the economy.
She says fuel — particularly ethanol subsidies — is a major problem for her area. Ethanol production is raising the price of corn and fuel and, by extension, everything else, she says.
Weng says her daughter and son-in-law are trying to raise three teenagers and pay for groceries. She worries that families like her daughter's won't be able to save for their kids' college education. Despite working more hours, all their extra money gets sucked up paying more for food and gas, she says.
Weng and her husband, who's a pilot, also care for their elderly parents. The cost of gas for small things, like taking them out to dinner or having their lawns mowed, is noticeable, she says.
The economy impacts Weng's business the most. She used to specialize in selling homes that cost $200,000 or more. Local companies used to recruit executives to whom she sold huge, high-end homes. Now that segment of the market has dropped off, and the prices of homes she's selling are generally smaller ranch-style houses that sell for roughly half the amount of houses she used to sell. Since she makes money off of commissions, she estimates she'll have to sell twice as many homes in order to maintain her income at the same level as last year.
This means driving twice as many clients — and paying more for gas.
"You know, America was built on driving," Weng says. "People like to drive in this country. We have to find a way for people to enjoy this country. And if they can't find a way to get to work, something needs to be done."