Last October, staff writer Art Pine visited six cities across the country to talk to people about the economy and how they were coping with the problems it credited for them.
Last month Pine revisited the same cities and interviewed many of the same people. The results of his trip are being outlined in a series which began on Aug. 3 and will end on Aug. 10. Today Pine profiles two couples and the changes the recession has made in their lives since October.
Gene Habedank checked his medical insurance policy and his bank account before leaving his job for a series of hospital colbalt treatments 18 months ago, but there's one thing he didn't count on: the 1980 recession.
After 10 1/2 months off the job, the craggy-faced 50-year-old ironworker returned to the union hiring hall last March feeling fit and eager to get back to work -- and ran smack into the auto and housing slump.
With much of Rockford's economy dependent upon those two industries, job opportunities in the Winebago County area shriveled up quickly. Ironworkers were among the first to be laid off. And Gene Habedank was out of luck.
Except for a brief stint at a nearby chemical factory, Habedank has been out of work for most of this year, watching his seniority, his savings and his middle-income lifestyle all go down the drain.
A year ago last April, strapped by hefty medical bills, Habendank and his wife, Norma, sold their $60,000 home in one of Rockford's blue-collar neighborhoods and moved into a rented house in adjoining Belvidere.
But without a source of steady income, they soon found they couldn't meet those monthly payments, either. What followed was a progression of moves into smaller and smaller apartments. In June, they settled into substandard housing.
As a journeyman at a local cement plant, the 30-year-old metalworking veteran regularly pulled down $28,000 a year -- about $538 a week. Now, his weekly unemployment benefits amount to $175.
"We used to go to the movies," Gene Habedank says. "We can't do none of that anymore."
The Habedanks also lost most of the property they'd acquired. Their lone car -- a 1972 van -- was repossessed by a local bank, Norma Habedank sold her jewelery, and they used all the equity from their house to pay medical bills.
In the meantime, the Habendanks spend most of their day around the apartment. Gene Habedank says he is first on the job list at the union hiring hall, but there's nothing open and prospects for the next few months are dim.
What does a couple do in the face of such disaster?
"Start over, I guess," Norma Habedank says, "if he ever finds work."