BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — On the eve of the 2012 elections, The Associated Press interviewed dozens of Americans to try to gauge the economic mood of the nation. People were asked about jobs, housing, gas prices, retirement and other issues. Among them were Amanda Folk and her husband, Chris, both 33, of Billings, Mont. The Folks have endured financial blows since the housing bubble burst five years ago. She's back in school. He's earning less money. They worry that their ability to regain financial security is blocked by corporations and their allies in Washington.
A home in foreclosure. Damaged credit. Vanished savings.
This isn't exactly how the Folks envisioned life would be like in 2012.
Until about five years ago, the Folks were living comfortably with their two children, now 6 and 9, outside Boise, Idaho. They owned a home. Chris made a good living as a self-employed flooring installer. Weekend trips out of town were a pleasurable routine.
Once Boise-area home prices collapsed, though, the Folks' lifestyle did, too. Work dried up for Chris. Amanda quit college. And they moved to Montana to be closer to her family.
An oil boom was boosting the eastern Montana economy, and Chris slowly rebuilt his flooring business. Amanda took a job as a nurse's assistant.
But during the transition, the family's income sank. They could no longer keep up with mortgage payments on their Idaho home. So for the past three years, the house has languished in foreclosure.
The family's credit is shot. They blew through nearly $30,000 in savings, mainly on mortgage payments. Attorneys tell them their only way out is bankruptcy protection.
"Everything I worked so hard for is just slipping away," Chris Folk says. "It just feels so far away to get back to where we were."
The Folks can't afford to save for retirement. They struggle to cover $1,280 in monthly rent. Gasoline expenses sometimes hit $600 a month to fuel Chris' van, so he can reach out-of-town flooring jobs.