Everyday folk share what a recession would mean to them

The economic forecasts for 2008 don't have much sunshine in them. While economists and other experts disagree on whether a recession is inevitable, most expect tough financial times ahead.

People from all backgrounds have heard the recession talk. And they know what condition their finances are in and how an economic downturn will impact them.

Here are the thoughts of several valley residents who shared recently how a recession would affect them:

Single mom Jennifer Wheeler, 24, said she's already in a bind financially.

While she attends classes at Modesto Junior College, she's living in government-subsidized housing and frustrated by the slow pace of financial aid.

Until her grants come through, she's copying needed pages from textbooks at a copy center in downtown Modesto. "It's the only way I'm making it right now."

Wheeler said she's studying for a job in health care, preferably in a pharmacy. But MJC doesn't have a class she needs, so she may have to switch to nursing or respiratory care, she said.

"I don't know if the jobs will be there," she said, describing her worries if a recession hits. "Some say the school part is the easy part.

"I hope not."

Retiree Ron Morrison of Modesto doesn't have college classes to worry about. His big concern is retirement savings.

When interest rates are cut, Morrison, 74, takes a financial hit. He relies on interest income from CDs to supplement his Social Security income.

In 2001, when interest rates were cut, Morrison said he lost $10,000 in annual income.

"It looks like I'll take that big a hit this time, if not more," he said.

Morrison, a retired title insurance and escrow broker, said he doesn't believe in the stock market or real estate as investments.

He added that he rents his house but also makes money from rental properties that he owns.

The downturn in the economy doesn't dramatically affect Morrison's life, he said. It just reduces his enjoyment of retirement.

"It's no fun when you can only go fishing once a month rather than once a week," he said.

Some occupations benefit from an economic downturn.

Court runner Christina Gonzalez, 33, said when the economy struggles, the courts get busier with more criminal and civil cases.

"My job will probably benefit," said Gonzalez, who lives with her parents. Her duties include filing, delivering notices and running documents for the Stanislaus County Superior Court.

But, Gonzalez said, if the economy goes into a recession, that usually means a tighter budget for public agencies such as the courts.

"So wages, yeah, everyone's worried about wages," she said, explaining that if court budgets are leaner, her wages might stagnate for a few years while the cost of living rises.

Noah and Azalea Williams of Modesto said they're struggling on one income because construction has slowed so much.

So while Noah, 25, takes small jobs and ponders going back to school, Azalea, 26, works as a Costco cashier. The couple and their two children have moved in with his parents to cut costs.

"I work in construction, and there's nothing right now," Noah Williams said. "My wife works, but she almost got laid off."

The couple said they are just trying to stay afloat until things turn around.

"The economy is definitely affecting us," Noah Williams said.

Not everyone has a doom-and-gloom perspective.

Financial adviser Charlie Christensen, 41, said that while housing, for example, is in a slump, other parts of the economy are stable.

"Consumers are still spending," he said. "Our economic environment is still fairly solid."

Christensen, of Modesto, said he's not directly affected by unemployment levels or interest rates, though plenty of his clients are.

He counsels them to take the same approach he does: patience and prudence.

"I try to stay true to my own goals," said Christensen, who has a wife and three children, two of them teenagers. "To me, it's a time to retrench a little, but not to panic."

Bee staff writer Ben van der Meer can be reached at or 578-2331.