Fallout Running Out of Options

For Many Americans, Nowhere to Go but Down

After losing their jobs, Scott and Kelly Nichols watched their finances and options dwindle, eventually making the tough decision to move their family to Kelly's mother's basement in Michigan.
By Paul Schwartzman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, August 3, 2009; 9:36 PM

MIDDLEBURY, Ind. -- He sinks into the couch, foot jiggling, his gaze traveling from his wife to the television to the darkness outside, broken now and then by the distant glow of passing headlights.

His mind settles into another round of "What if?"

As in: What if we don't have cash to buy milk, eggs, bread or diapers? What if our unemployment benefits run out? What if we never find jobs?

And then Scott Nichols thinks of the words he doesn't want to say, what for him, a 39-year-old husband and father of two, is the option he has hoped to avoid since being laid off nine months earlier.

They already took free food from a church pantry, cardboard boxes filled with Corn Flakes and bologna and saltines, his wife, Kelly, walking in, head down, while he stayed in the car, ashen. They pawned his wedding ring, sold part of her Silver Eagle coin collection and had help from the Salvation Army paying their electric bill.

Now another cliff approaches: the loss of the home they rent.

"Looks like we'll have to go to your mom's," Scott Nichols says to Kelly, 33, who is in a beige recliner, staring ahead.

Moving to her mother's would mean returning to the rundown industrial town where they grew up, a place that makes him feel dirty, inside and out. They would sleep in her basement jammed with forgotten furniture, a few steps from a pair of cat litter boxes and below three narrow windows blocked by insulation.

Twenty months after it began, what has the American recession come to?

There are signs that the bottom has been reached. The stock market is on its way back up. Retail sales are improving. The overall sense of desperation, so widespread at the beginning of the year, has eased.

Every day come new reports suggesting some improvement.

But underneath all of the reports is this living room.

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