Last October, staff writer Art Pine visited six cities across the country and talked with people about the economy and how they were coping with the problems it created 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 continues his profiles of couples and the changes the recession has made in their lives since October.
By anyone's standards, Bob and Mary Klavig ought to be hurting badly in this year's economic pinch.
His total gross pay, as a worker in a metal-door factory is $280 a week, and she works part-time at a discount store. The owe the bank $800. And their house rental and utility bills are continuing to skyrocket.
What's more, they have two small children to feed and clothe -- Travis, age 8, and Cameron, now 17 months,
But, startling as it may seem, the Kalvigs, both 26, are visibly less squeezed now than they were only 10 months ago -- and they feel a good deal more optimistic about the future, to boot.
"We're buying more things now, and we're going out a bit more," Mary Kalvig says. Even though inflation topped 14 percent over the past year, "All in all," she concedes, "I'd say we're much better off."
The Kalvigs' newfound breathing-room contrasts sharply with their situation last October, when the two were living from week to week on an austerity budget with little hope in sight.
The Kalvigs had been in Mason City only eight months then -- they moved here to escape the higher living costs of Dallas -- and had run through most of their modest savings, had cut spending to the bone and were borrowing to pay the doctor.
In July of last year Mary Kalvig came to a decision that obviously did not come easy for a couple in its mid-20s: She underwent sterilization so the Kalvigs wouldn't have any more children.
"We can't afford kids in the first place," she told a visitor last fall. "Bob did want three more kids, but we decided we just want to get these brought up."
Now, less than a year later, the Kalvigs have paid off some of their debt to a local finance company, abandoned their one-bedroom cottage for a somwhat more spacious house and begun thinking about new clothes for the kids.
What put the Kalvigs into better straits had nothing to do with the recession or President Carter's new anti-inflation moves. It was getting more money, Bob Kalvig says.
In the past several months, Kalvig has worked his way from day-laborer at a local door-fabricating plant to the new post of lead man-earning for him a "substantial" pay boost of $30 a week over the previous $250.
At the same time, despite the current economic slump, the store in which Mary Kalvig works has been increasing its overtime hours for parttime workers. It also granted parttimers a 15-cent-an-hour pay hike.
Admittedly, the increased income isn't all available for extras. The rent on the Kalvigs' new home is $210 a month -- compared with $160 a month before. And even here in the heart of farm country food prices for consumers have soared.
But the combination of wages hikes has made the Kalvigs feel they have more breathing space. Bob Kalvig bought a used pickup truck a few weeks ago. "We're even putting some away for savings," Mary Kalvig says with satisfaction.
The Kalvigs, haven't been active much politically, but the impact of inflation and the recession have given them a new interest in what the government is doing -- and in their minds, it's time for a change.
"I'm leaning more towards Reagan," Bob Kalvig says, lamenting that Carter "hasn't handled things very well. "He also wants the budget balanced. "In the long run," he says, "I imagine that would help us out."