Randy VandenBerg considers himself a lucky man.
With 27 years of experience at an office-furniture factory near his home in Wayland, Mich., VandenBerg has a steady job operating a forklift for $18 an hour.
VandenBerg, 46, figures that he and wife Denise, a 39-year-old schoolteacher, will earn a combined $90,000 this year -- "enough to pay our bills and do something when you want."
They are doing much better, he said, than many of the former co-workers he has seen laid off from the plant in recent years. And better off than the plant's newest workers, who have been brought on as temporary hires earning much less.
"I'm probably lucky I have the seniority I do," VandenBerg said, adding that he feels "very good" about his job security and financial prospects.
That tenure has helped provide a comfortable life for the couple and their four children, ages 12 to 17.
They are adding a second bathroom to their four-bedroom house. They live near Lake Michigan and like to take little weekend trips there, where they rent a condo. And the family golfs a lot, he said.
"That's probably our biggest splurge."
The family also tries to take a vacation every year for spring break. This year they spent a week on the beach in Florida.
Both VandenBergs contribute to their employer-provided 401(k) retirement savings plans, investing the money in stocks. But they consider the house their biggest source of savings. They have 13 years left on the mortgage and plan on being able to live there when they retire, borrowing against it if necessary in emergencies or to pay big bills.
They "usually don't have much left" after paying their monthly bills but have enough so that "if there's something we wanted to do, we'd do it," he said.
One sore spot VandenBerg mentioned was the fact that his wages haven't been rising, even though it seems the cost "of everything is going up."
College tuition is one example he cited. But he expects all of his children to go to college, and he plans to use a home equity loan if necessary to pay the bills.
VandenBerg said he knows his children will need a college education to compete for jobs in the future. He said they won't be able to do what he did, heading straight for the factory at age 18 and landing a long-term job with decent pay.
"I'm not worried about the economy," though, he said. "The American people always find a way to come through. You just do what you have to do."