RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
Even for Americans who still have their jobs, the uncertain economy is sowing anxiety. NPR's Wade Goodwyn is following the fortunes of a body shop in Dallas called Quality Colors. And this morning he profiles one worker at that shop.
WADE GOODWYN: Walk around inside the garage of Quality Colors and it's clear that even though there's a recession, drivers haven't stopped smashing into one another. This guy was T-boned. That driver obviously wasn't paying attention when traffic abruptly came to a halt. This one didn't see the concrete light pole while backing out of the 7-Eleven.
Despite the carnage, business is off here. And because body shop workers are paid, not by the hour but by commission, paychecks go up and down with the volume of cars out the door.
Mr. SCOTT PYTEREK (Painter, Quality Colors): Well, I am concerned about the economy, and me and my wife — we live day by day.
GOODWYN: Scott Pyterek is 45 years old, and he's been painting cars for the last 25 years. He and his wife, Michelle, have no children, two cars that are paid off and a house they bought 12 years ago.
As any American who's lost his or her jog in the last two or three months can tell you, having an erratic paycheck is a lot better than having no paycheck at all. Scott's job is safe for the time being, it's his wife Michelle they're worried about. She's an interior designer for an upscale homebuilder.
Mr. PYTEREK: They're a pretty big company. They're in Frisco and in Houston. And they employ probably 300 people - or used to employ 300 people - but they've been having layoffs every couple of weeks. And just in my wife's department they've already released two ladies out of five - and we don't know what they're going to do next.
GOODWYN: The Pytereks have no debt to speak of, but no savings either. Like millions of other American families, it takes both of their incomes to make the mortgage and pay their bills. A painter with Pyterek's experience will make between $30,000 and $80,000 a year, depending on volume. But he says if his wife lost her job, they'd lose their house in short order.
Mr. PYTEREK: It would be tough and we'd probably last a couple of months before we'd have to make a drastic move with our mortgage.
GOODWYN: There's not a lot of fat to cut. The couple's one extravagance is dinner out.
Mr. PYTEREK: We do about once a week. That's basically our entertainment -going to Chili's or something like that on a Friday or Saturday.
GOODWYN: With the deteriorating economy, it's become a popular feature on the local news to highlight various ways in which families can save money. But clipping coupons or giving up their one night out is not going to make the difference for the Pytereks if they only have his salary coming in.
Watching co-workers who've been laid off file out the door week after week, has left his wife shaken and depressed. Pyterek knows they're helpless to affect the situation. He does the best he can to keep morale up at home.
Mr. PYTEREK: Yeah, I try to reassure her just about every night when she starts talking negative. I try to tell her to think positive.
GOODWYN: If they were to lose the house, Scott Pyterek says they'd move into an apartment and adjust. He'd still have his job painting at the body shop. For customers, Quality Color is simply the place where for 25 years they've been able to get reliable auto body work done. For the employees, however, in this economy it's their safety line to the life they've come to enjoy.
Wade Goodwyn, NPR News, Dallas.
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