The Road to Ruin?

Lincoln family dodges economic bullet

Tess Vigeland Apr 14, 2009
The Landis-McKibben family of Lincoln, Neb. Tess Vigeland/Marketplace
The Road to Ruin?

Lincoln family dodges economic bullet

Tess Vigeland Apr 14, 2009
The Landis-McKibben family of Lincoln, Neb. Tess Vigeland/Marketplace


Kai Ryssdal: The economic optimism that was coming out of official Washington today was nowhere to be seen last fall. Back in October the vibe was more, how bad can it possibly get? So we set about figuring out whether Wall Street was leading this country down the “Road to Ruin.”

Marketplace’s Amy Scott and Tess Vigeland are off on a new set of travels. Amy was in Charlotte, N.C. yesterday. That’s home to a big chunk of the U.S. banking industry. We’ll get her update in just a bit. Tess spent the night in Lincoln, Neb., where she had dinner with the Landis-McKibben family. Just like she did in October.

TESS VIGELAND: Life and dinner seem pretty much like they were six months ago at the home of Dave and Melodee Landis. On the menu in October, chicken and gravy. Last night, a frugal staple at the table, which daughter Melissa, a 36-year-old environmental specialist with the local utility, assured us signified nothing.

Melissa: Actually I got all sorts of grief because I made macaroni and cheese tonight and all sorts of people were like, “Hey, you know, if you put hot dogs in that it’ll go a little further.”

It’s not the economy, she says, it’s my eight-year-old daughter Naomi. As we sat down I asked Melodee, a professor at the University of Nebraska, how the economy has treated the family since last October.

Melodee LANDIS: Well, I think relatively well in comparison to some people in this country, wouldn’t you say, folks?

In fact, Lincoln was recently listed in a national magazine as one of the good places to ride out a recession. State government and university jobs are holding steady as are property values.

And Nebraska was the only state in the country where unemployment dropped from January to February of this year. But there was a narrow escape recently for the Landis’ son, Matt, who’s about to turn 40. His employer, Lincoln Benefit Life, announced up to 1,100 job cuts over the next two years. That’s a third of the insurance company’s workforce.

Matt: So there was one big cut about a month ago or two that I thought I was a goner and somehow or other I made it through that with a heck of a lot of gratitude.

Especially since he and his wife just had their first child two weeks ago.
Matt’s now watching to see if the economy provides an incentive to get back into the markets.

Matt: Buy low, sell high is what we’ve always been taught and in a sense this is one of our greatest opportunities that we’ve had in our lifetime. That this is an opportunity to take advantage of that prosperity once it comes back.

But 60-year-old dad, Dave Landis — an urban planner with the city — says the damage has been so great that any rebound may be too little too late for him.

Dave LANDIS: The older you get, a 6,500 Dow doesn’t work. You put in money at 8-9-10-11 and 12, and you’ve taken your savings and cut it in half over time.

And for wife Melodee, that’s meant a wholesale shift in plans.

MELODEE: I still want to retire.

VIGELAND: How much has that been affected by the downturn?

MELODEE: It’s absolutely the difference. I would be retired right now. I lost a lot of money in my 401k. I lost two-thirds of it.

Both Melodee and Dave say they’re worried they’ll eventually have to rely on help from Melissa and Matt — their children. Which is something they never imagined they’d have to do. And they say the biggest factor, with their nest eggs so depleted, is health care.

DAVE: The only way it works is if we retire, live modestly, and then…

Melodee: Drop dead!

DAVE: Without even bothering going to the hospital!! Do not pass go and just plant ’em in the cigar box and you’re done.

But for all the concerns brought about by the recession this family believes it’s still lucky.

DAVE: My grandfather had four sons that were in World War II. And he used to say I can’t be so lucky as to have all my kids survive the war. And they did. In a sense, from where we were six months ago, so far we all dodged a bullet.

And with that, they knocked on the wooden table and got up to do the dishes.

In Lincoln, Neb., I’m Tess Vigeland for Marketplace.

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