MELISSA BLOCK, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
And I'm Robert Siegel.
NPR's David Greene has been making his way down I-75. He's traveling during President Obama's first 100 days, talking with people about the economy.
Among the many groups struggling through this downturn are Americans in their 20s and 30s. They're facing questions about whether they'll have jobs after college, and about what these times mean for their long-term future.
On one stop, David Greene hung out with the young crowd at a neighborhood cafe in Atlanta.
DAVID GREENE: As I've made my way down I-75, I've met people who are out of work, business owners just trying to stay afloat, families who are canceling their vacations. But when I came for breakfast to a place called the Stone Soup Kitchen in Atlanta, it was really the first time I had a chance to talk to young people.
Ms. MONICA OWENHEAD(ph): We're all about to graduate. We're all about to go in this real world, and we all are not looking forward to it.
GREENE: That's Monica Owenhead. She's 22 years old and a part-time server here. Monica's finishing college at Georgia State University in a few months. This recession scares her.
Ms. OWENHEAD: I mean, my friend graduated last semester, he still can't find a job at all. So, I mean, so, he's still working in a coffee shop. And that's what I don't want. I love this place, but I don't want to work here when I graduate.
GREENE: This place, Stone Soup Kitchen, serves up cheap comfort food in Cabbagetown, an Atlanta neighborhood that's full of artists, musicians, young couples - a lot of people, like Monica, who are living through their first recession as adults.
Mr. JASON PALMER(ph): I was laid off for nine months last year.
GREENE: I guess you felt the recession.
Mr. PALMER: Yes.
GREENE: Jason Palmer is here for breakfast with his wife, Hannah. Just a year ago, Jason was living a dream - for a guy in his early 30s. Happily married, he had moved up to supervisor at a video-production company. But then the company downsized, and Jason lost his job. That's when he got creative.
Mr. PALMER: I literally became a professional scrap guy while I was unemployed and looking for work.
GREENE: Yes, scrap guy. Jason scoured the streets for metal that people had tossed. He'd then head to a local dump that paid good money for scrap.
Mr. PALMER: Anytime I saw a washing machine, I mean, the price was so high, I could literally fill my little truck up with scrap metal.
GREENE: So, you were just out there on the street looking for…
Mr. PALMER: Oh, yeah. On trash, I knew…
Ms. HANNAH PALMER: In between dropping off resumes.
Mr. PALMER: In between dropping off resumes, I'd be in my little, Sunday-best suit, right? And I would be - I'd see a washing machine on the side of the road, and I'd put it in the back of my truck. I could take a truckload of stuff over there, and it could be, easily, two weeks' grocery money, easy.
Ms. PALMER: That was a weird year.
GREENE: How did you feel about him out there collecting scrap metal?
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. PALMER: I don't know. He's resourceful.
GREENE: In fact, Jason recently found a job with the Federal Reserve in Atlanta. He and Hannah paid off their debts and have begun to save, but Jason says people his age face a difficult decision now. After watching their parents' retirement savings vanish, they wonder if investing in pension funds and retirement accounts is still the best idea.
Mr. PALMER: A lot of people are, at least that I know, their eyes are being opened up.
GREENE: Jason did set up a 401k at his new job, but each time he sees money come out of that paycheck, he feels a risk.
Mr. PALMER: I have a bit of anxiety. I mean, I'm not afraid to admit that. I have anxiety about what it means to think that you're doing the right thing and all of a sudden, it doesn't add up in the end.
GREENE: As I work my way around the restaurant, I'm hearing different kinds of fears. Raqi Carter, that's R-A-Q-I, is 24. She waitresses here. Raqi was part of the youth movement that helped President Obama win the White House.
Ms. RAQI CARTER: I just love what he's going to do for black men and, you know, it's exciting.
GREENE: But what's dampening her excitement is the economy. Raqi doesn't have faith that the president can find a solution, even with his best effort. And what if, she says, Mr. Obama pushes this costly stimulus plan through Congress, and Americans don't feel relief?
Ms. CARTER: I think if he puts this out, and it doesn't work or doesn't do anything, people are gonna be, like, I told you we shouldn't have voted for - you know, I really think being a black woman, being a black person, you don't really have room for mistakes. You've got to be good the first time around. Mistakes are kind of unforgiven.
GREENE: For all of the worry here at Stone Soup Kitchen, I should say this isn't a melancholy place. I've come across people on this trip who are consumed by hardship. Here, everyone's still chatting about their weekend or the local hip-hop scene.
The kitchen manager, Sam Terrell, actually puts a positive spin on the recession. Sam's 23, and with jobs so scarce, he says there's not a lot of pressure on a young guy to find his career.
Mr. SAM TERRELL (Stone Soup Kitchen): I think it's more of an opportunity than anything, to take this time now to go back to school and save whatever money I can.
GREENE: And maybe just enjoy life. Sam's actually a rapper. Yes, this surprises me because he's a pretty soft-spoken guy. But he's happiest when he's out on the road doing shows with Supreeme, the Atlanta hip-hop group he's part of.
(Soundbite of door opening)
GREENE: He actually comes outside with me so we can pop one of his CDs in my rental car.
Mr. TERRELL: This is called, "The Best Years are Right Here."
(Soundbite of song, "The Best Years are Right Here")
Unidentified Man: (Singing) This is the best times of my life right now. This is the best years of my life.
Mr. TERRELL: Sort of a dramatic, kind of a dark beat with the dark violins, and then he's sort of droning on in the chorus, like, these are the best years of my life. And we're kind of being ironic because, you know, the economy's bad, and it's just, like, everything is sort of crazy, everyone's losing their jobs, and you know, record companies are kind of slow. But we're still out here enjoying ourselves and, you know, making the best raps. You know, just living it up as best as we can, because you know, these are the best years of our life.
(Soundbite of song, "The Best Years are Right Here")
Mr. TERRELL: (Singing) Don't touch, don't touch a light socket. I'm like sprockets…
GREENE: I bought Sam's CD for 10 bucks. So his message and music have stuck with me as I've driven on south.
I'm David Greene, NPR News.
BLOCK: And you can track David's trip on an interactive map at npr.org/100days, where you can also submit story ideas.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.