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How the recession is reshaping the American family

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At the beginning of last year, Kevin and his wife, Cheryl, thought they were on their way toward financial security. Kevin had just gotten a $16-an-hour job at the SMART Papers paper mill outside Cincinnati – $4 better than he was making as a store manager at Dollar General. With their four young children, the couple decided to move out of their rented townhouse and into a trailer. It was supposed to be a temporary move, Cheryl explains now with a sigh, to cut costs and save up for a house of their own. But three days before Christmas, and two months after the birth of their youngest child, Kevin was laid off.

"I thought, 'What are we going to do?' " Cheryl recalls. "I went out right away and got food stamps. He immediately started putting in applications. He probably applied at 100 different places."

A month later, he got a call back from Target, which offered him an early morning, part-time position. He took the job, but his take-home pay dropped from about $3,000 a month to $800 a month. He and Cheryl decided he should go back to school, in hopes that an information technology degree would help the family in the long run. But after a few months, they started slipping behind on their rent and their car payments.

Cheryl, who had been a stay-at-home mom, decided she needed to work. She took the only job she could find: a $7-an-hour position at a gas station. Now she starts work around 3 p.m., before her 9- and 7-year-old get back from school, and gets home at 10 p.m., after they're in bed.

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