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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Steve Inskeep.

LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

And I'm Linda Wertheimer.

The Labor Department issues its monthly jobs report today, which will put a number to the unemployment rate for the month of April. We'll have more on what's expected in a moment.

First, while the recession hit everyone - rich and poor and in-between - the recovery hasn't been so democratic. This next story focuses on the in-between. People living above the poverty line, but below the average-wage - people who made big plans over the last decade. Now they're fighting just to get a job.

NPR's Zoe Chace has this profile of a brother and sister who had to come up with a contingency plan.

ZOE CHACE: The best-laid plans of mice and men. Picture 10 years ago: Property values are shooting up. Mom's buying a new house and moving the kids out of the old neighborhood. The oldest is planning on college in the fall - first in her family.

Ms. NATALIE GEYMAYR: It seemed like everything was ahead of us.

CHACE: Meet 26-year-old Natalie Geymayr. She's standing in her backyard in front of what's got to be the biggest grill on Long Island.

Ms. GEYMAYR: We're Argentinean, so we're big on barbeques, like, you know, full-cow-on-the-grill type barbeques.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CHRIS GEYMAYR: Oh, hi. How are you doing?

CHACE: Enter Chris Geymayr, Natalie's brother.

Mr. GEYMAYR: I'm a little bit more easygoing. So, she gets a little crazy sometimes. I love her to death, but she gets a little crazy.

CHACE: He's 23. A couple years ago, they did not see themselves grilling on the lawn, middle of the workweek at the house they grew up in. Chris thought he'd be taking finals. Natalie thought she'd be working.

Now they have a new strategy.

Ms. GEYMAYR: We were thinking, like, well, if I stay out of work and just go to school full-time, he'll get a full-time job, and so I could try to finish.

CHACE: And once she finishes, he'll be able to go back to school.

Mr. GEYMAYR: She's too smart for me to - you know, like, she's 4.0 every semester, you know. And it's just like, I see that, and I see how much she really needs it. And, you know, me, I can deal with other stuff.

CHACE: Where her brother is practical, Natalie is a dreamer. She's easily nostalgic and wistful for the life they had before - before her mom died of cancer in 2003, leaving the family with two houses that both needed work and two mortgages.

Natalie was a senior in high school then. Dad wasn't really in the picture. Her grandparents, both retired, wanted her to go to college, like she'd planned. And she went on academic scholarship.

Ms. GEYMAYR: At that time, we still had equity in the houses. The value was still higher, so my grandparents were able to pull money out, cover us like that.

CHACE: She racked up some serious debt.

Ms. GEYMAYR: I otherwise, like, wouldn't be able to survive if it wasn't for the credit cards at that time. I didn't know how else to do it.

CHACE: Fifteen thousand dollars of credit card debt, plus mortgage payments, school payments - and you can see where this is going. Natalie dropped out of college in 2007, just let go.

Professor BILL RODGERS (Labor Economist, Rutgers University): She really fits the profile that many Americans experienced just before the recession.

CHACE: Labor economist Bill Rogers says that's a typical amount of debt from back then.

Prof. RODGERS: U.S. levels of personal debt had risen to all-time highs.

CHACE: So Natalie moved home to the old house to get a job as a secretary.

Ms. GEYMAYR: Like, eight months into being there, the recession hit and there was like no work when I got laid off. It was scary.

CHACE: But Natalie went through a series of secretary gigs. Each one paid less than the one before.

Prof. RODGERS: As jobs were drying up, the jobs that are going to be paying better wages, she's now with less education. She's competing for those better jobs.

CHACE: Chris was in college by then, barely getting by. About two years in, he came home.

Mr. GEYMAYR: I decided why, you know, spend the money that I am on rent and stuff like that, when I could just put that towards the mortgage and help pay the taxes?

CHACE: They both need that one job, the one that will get their plans back on track. But it's really hard to find. Chris is delivering TVs right now, but it's part-time. Natalie got laid off again. They pool what income they have, allocating it out of triage: to the credit cards, to Chris's dental work, to the house.

Prof. RODGERS: Natalie and her brother, they don't want to sell the house, or they can't sell the house. If they do, they make a major loss, and hence, they're, in a way, limiting their search options.

CHACE: A lot of people out of work are stuck where the jobs aren't. But there's one business venture that Natalie has on lock.

Ms. GEYMAYR: I'm going to give away all my secrets. I'm sorry.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CHACE: Natalie makes these special hotdogs, Colombian Hawaiian-style - two for three, three for five: coleslaw, lime, potato chips, ketchup, mayo and pineapple sauce.

Ms. GEYMAYR: This is it. It's huge. I know it's going to be really hard to take a bite out of, but take your best shot.

CHACE: That looks amazing.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CHACE: The hot dog used to be called the Depression Sandwich, and they're still really popular.

Zoe Chace, NPR News.

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