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Economic Roundtable Revisited: Still No End In Sight

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MARCH 2009. From left to right: WBUR's Bob Oakes and economic roundtable members Schlander Campbell, Helen Ramirez, Bob Sicotte and Dave Ratner. (Sarah Bush/WBUR)
MARCH 2009. From left to right: WBUR's Bob Oakes and economic roundtable members Schlander Campbell, Helen Ramirez, Bob Sicotte and Dave Ratner. (Sarah Bush/WBUR)

Last October, the federal government had just initiated the first wave of bailouts. Economists had begun to warn that the country was entering a deep recession. Massachusetts lawmakers said they would have to consider cutbacks in local aid to cities and towns. To get a sense of the fears and frustrations of everyday people,  WBUR invited a diverse group of Massachusetts residents to come into our studios and share their experiences in a worsening economy.

Schlander Campbell, a lead dental X-ray technician at Boston Medical Center, said she felt she was "at a crunch," and worried she would soon have to choose between heating her home, putting food on her table and filling her gas tank.

Helen Ramirez, an office manager for the Chelsea Police Department, was coping with having recently gone from a two-income household to a one-income household, and had been trying to sell her home for 200 days — without luck. "I'd like to see some relief,  I guess," Helen told us.

Dave Ratner, the owner of Dave's Pet Foods, had recently moved two of his stores into larger spaces and was trying to rent out some of that space to help with his "huge mortgage," but said there weren't any "retail people crazy enough besides me."

Bob Sicotte, a contract worker for Fiberfit Insulation, said he was concerned that work might dry up if the banks stopped lending money. At 54 years old, Bob was worried about sending his daughter to nursing school while preparing for retirement.

Five months later, the economic situation has deteriorated in every way. Our roundtable members came back together this week, to share how they've been impacted by the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression.

Schlander says "it's definitely been a hard winter." She's been working hard to cut back on her heating bills, but she says she'll still need to get on a budget plan to pay it all off.

Helen is still trying to sell her home. She was hopeful that she could get some help from the new government programs, but her good record meant she wasn't able to qualify for any mortgage relief. She also tried to refinance, but she's lost all the equity on her house. Helen says she's "hanging on by her fingernails."

Dave considers himself pretty lucky. As a business owner, he says his profits are down and he's in "survival mode," but being in the pet industry has kept him afloat. He says no matter how bad it gets people won't stop feeding their pets — rather than buy the more expensive, all-natural dog foods, they're choosing to go for the generic stuff.

Bob is down to a four-day work week. His union instituted the shortened week in an effort to prevent further layoffs after a round in January. But, like Dave,  Bob says he feels pretty lucky compared to many other union workers in the area. He says his trade is doing "a lot better than all the other trades around Boston."

How much has changed in five months? Listen to our first economic roundtable in early October:

OCTOBER 2008. From left to right: Economic roundtable members Schlander Campbell, Jerome Rappaport, Dave Ratner, Bob Sicotte and Helen Ramirez. (Sarah Bush/WBUR)
OCTOBER 2008. From left to right: Economic roundtable members Schlander Campbell, Jerome Rappaport, Dave Ratner, Bob Sicotte and Helen Ramirez. (Sarah Bush/WBUR)

This program aired on March 10, 2009. The audio for this program is not available.

Bob Oakes Twitter Host, Morning Edition
Bob Oakes has been WBUR's Morning Edition anchor since 1992.

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