Florida family lives the simple life

Beth and Scott Greenlee at their home in Orange Park, Fla.

TEXT OF STORY

TESS VIGELAND: It's that time when many of us look back on the past 12 months and try to figure out how to take some of those lessons into the new year. And oh how many, many lessons are available to all of us from the financial cataclysm that was 2008.

Today and tomorrow, we're visiting with two American families to see how they're reflecting the new economic realities. Today we go to Orange Park, Florida, where a family with four kids was already struggling before the crisis hit. Now, with the country in a deepening recession, they're barely hanging on.

Katie Ball has our report.


KATIE BALL: The Greenlees were a middle-class couple living their version of the American dream in Waterbury, Connecticut.

BETH GREENLEE: My husband was the first person in his family to ever own a house... we refinished the wood floors, we redid the kitchen.

Scott had a good job as a warehouse truck loader for a Stop and Shop supermarket. His wife Beth says "they were doing well." In fact the Greenlees even managed to buy a second house that they rented out for extra income.

GREENLEE: Julia was born in December of 2005. That's when it all really hit the fan.

Their third child Julia was born 3 months premature. While his newborn was still in the hospital Scott was laid off from his job of 7 years.

GREENLEE: And he got laid off with 400 other guys - so when they all looked for jobs it was slim pickings.

In addition, Beth found out she was pregnant. Again. The Greenlees were sliding fast. They attempted to sell their homes before foreclosure but no offers, no bites. They lost both homes and moved to Florida.

GREENLEE: We figured we would move to a warmer climate in case we had to live in our tents.

She laughs but she isn't joking. The family did manage to get into a rental house and Scott got himself a new full-time job, but at a fraction of his old pay they still need financial assistance but their request for food stamps were denied this month.

Beth says people look at her differently now that she needs financial aid.

GREENLEE: You know, just to go and apply for benefits they embarrass you and if you really need it you don't care how much you're embarrassed -- you've gotta feed your kids.

What major changes in your lives have you made to keep your head above water?

GREENLEE: In 2006 during the holiday season I had to call all my... it was very embarrassing - all my family and friends and say that we couldn't exchange gifts.

Times are so tight that Beth can't even afford her blood pressure medication, and the family ditched cable and other non-essential expenses -- but Beth's still a smoker. She's trying quit but she says their financial stress makes it hard to kick it. And yeah, she does see the irony in that line of thinking.

Beth's a stay-at-home mom and thinks about getting an outside job but she faces the same challenge a lot of parents experience.

GREENLEE: I've been out of work for nine years, so for me to go to work I've got to take something entry-level and it wouldn't even pay for daycare for one of my girls never mind two of them.

How much do they know about what's going on?

GREENLEE: My 8 year old, he's with me a lot so there's been a few times where... I try not to cry in front of him, so he probably understands a little more emotionally than the other kids.

But he's still an 8 year old and Christmas is coming up.

GREENLEE: Because he's been able to grasp some of our financial woes he actually only asked for two things this year and I think my mom and my dad are going to be able to pull it off.

Support from family and friends, well-worn toys, old cars in the drive -- in a lot of ways it all looks like normal everyday life and it only hits home when you really think about what this family has lost.

But still...

How has it changed your relationship with your husband?

GREENLEE: I think it's made it stronger. We know one another better. We respect one another more. We've simplified and you know we've found our blessings in that.

From Orange Park, Florida I'm Katie Ball for Marketplace.

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