Mood of the Nation: Set back by the housing bust
BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — On the eve of the 2012 elections, The Associated Press interviewed dozens of Americans to try to gauge the economic mood of the nation. People were asked about jobs, housing, gas prices, retirement and other issues. Among them were Amanda Folk and her husband, Chris, both 33, of Billings, Mont. The Folks have endured financial blows since the housing bubble burst five years ago. She's back in school. He's earning less money. They worry that their ability to regain financial security is blocked by corporations and their allies in Washington.
A home in foreclosure. Damaged credit. Vanished savings.
This isn't exactly how the Folks envisioned life would be like in 2012.
Until about five years ago, the Folks were living comfortably with their two children, now 6 and 9, outside Boise, Idaho. They owned a home. Chris made a good living as a self-employed flooring installer. Weekend trips out of town were a pleasurable routine.
Once Boise-area home prices collapsed, though, the Folks' lifestyle did, too. Work dried up for Chris. Amanda quit college. And they moved to Montana to be closer to her family.
An oil boom was boosting the eastern Montana economy, and Chris slowly rebuilt his flooring business. Amanda took a job as a nurse's assistant.
But during the transition, the family's income sank. They could no longer keep up with mortgage payments on their Idaho home. So for the past three years, the house has languished in foreclosure.
The family's credit is shot. They blew through nearly $30,000 in savings, mainly on mortgage payments. Attorneys tell them their only way out is bankruptcy protection.
"Everything I worked so hard for is just slipping away," Chris Folk says. "It just feels so far away to get back to where we were."
The Folks can't afford to save for retirement. They struggle to cover $1,280 in monthly rent. Gasoline expenses sometimes hit $600 a month to fuel Chris' van, so he can reach out-of-town flooring jobs.
They say the economy seems tilted: Big banks wield power. Legislators bow to corporate interests. The rich get richer while the working class fall further behind.
They're voting for President Barack Obama with no enthusiasm. Yet they say their discontent with his handling of the economy is outweighed by Mitt Romney's corporate ties.
Amanda Folk is pursuing a communications degree at Montana State University, Billings. She's "scared to death" she won't find a job in public relations or a related field after graduation to repay $25,000 in student loans.
She hasn't returned to their Idaho house in two years; she can't bear it. Vandals have broken in. A former neighbor has taken to mowing the lawn. The couple is reluctant to rent the house for fear that their lender would end up with whatever money they collected.
They've cancelled their home phone and Internet service. Amanda Folk no longer shops at an organic food co-op.
They're seeking a smaller place to rent. But they don't want to move far. Their daughter has cycled through four elementary schools in the past few years.
"The hardest part is the psychological part of it," Amanda Folk says. "Our kids don't have any sense of security. My daughter still asks, 'Are we going to be here next year?'"
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