In Queens, Life And Failing Economy Derail Dream Joe Alonzo, 24, had it all planned out: Graduate from a four-year college, get married, start a family and fulfill the dreams of his Dominican parents. Life and a failing economy forced him to leave community college, and like many in his generation, move to plan B.
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In Queens, Life And Failing Economy Derail Dream

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In Queens, Life And Failing Economy Derail Dream

In Queens, Life And Failing Economy Derail Dream

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Joe Alonzo thinks ahead. When he was a teenager, he laid out a ten-year plan.

Mr. JOE ALONZO: I would go to college right around 18, graduate around 22, and probably wouldn't get married until I was 25 or 26.

MONTAGNE: Joe is now 24 and he's getting married this year without the college degree he planned on, and for the moment, without a job. As part of our series Generation Next, we're hearing from people like Joe who've had to make hard choices and new plans in this economy. Guest correspondent Judy Woodruff has our final story.

JUDY WOODRUFF: There was a 40 percent chance of rain in New York City on the day I met Joe Alonzo. Some people might hear a number like that and take a chance. But Joe is the kind of guy who checks the weather and packs an umbrella.

Mr. ALONZO: I'll be surprised if the Mets get a game in today with all this rain.

WOODRUFF: He's walking through the Corona section of Queens where he grew up and still lives.

Mr. ALONZO: As you can see it's a very Hispanic-oriented section of Queens. There's a big Italian community around here too. Turn here.

WOODRUFF: Joe's family is from the Dominican Republic. His parents came here when he was a baby, and raised Joe and four younger siblings in a small brick apartment house.

Mr. ALONZO: And this is where I used to live, that second floor, right there. It's a lot smaller than I remember, but then again I was tiny.

(Soundbite of kids playing)

WOODRUFF: When he was a teenager, Joe liked taking things apart and putting them back together. He took computer classes at community college, expecting to transfer to a four-year school. That was in 2006, before the economy went bad. But within his own family, money was already a problem.

Mr. ALONZO: My father, at the time, was self-employed, preparing income taxes, things like that, so his income was very variable. And my mother was — and still is — a travel agent. So, you know, there's a certain limit to what you can make. And it was tough with the five children and the rent and a lot of bills. And it was causing a rift in the family, you know. So it was something that was like, you know what? My mother and my father were the ones who raised me, and I've got to help them somehow.

WOODRUFF: So the plan that Joe laid out at the beginning of this story where he'd have a four-year degree by age 22, he put that aside. He left community college to find a full-time job.

Mr. ALONZO: That was a tough decisions because in the back of my mind I just kept hearing my mother saying how she wanted me to finish college, but I just put my personal plans on the back burner in order to help them.

WOODRUFF: What did your mother say to you, though, when you made the decision to leave college?

Mr. ALONZO: She knew that I was mature enough to understand the risks. And she said, you know what? College isn't going anywhere. You know, there's always going to be a college that you could go to. But she completely appreciated it. You know, it did help her out.

WOODRUFF: Joe worked for a while, helped his family pay for groceries and other bills. Then he took a course to be a computer technician. Not exactly a four-year degree, but it gave him the credentials to make better money. He eventually did get an IT job that paid about $50,000 a year. One problem: The year was 2008, and the economy was falling apart. Shortly after he was hired…

Mr. ALONZO: I was let go. It was pretty surprising actually. But, you know, even if I had a four-year degree, I could still be out of a job. In this economic situation that the whole nation is facing, you know, there's several people who have even their master's degrees and they're out looking for work.

WOODRUFF: And so is Joe. He's been looking for work for five months.

Mr. ALONZO: Hey, where are you? You want to meet us over there in Fridays?

WOODRUFF: His unemployment checks last through the end of the year. But he's imposed his own deadline. He wants a job by the end of next month. He's getting married in the fall.

Ms. CRISELY PEREZ: Hi, how are you?

Mr. ALONZO: How was work?

Ms. PEREZ: Boring.

Mr. ALONZO: Slow?

Ms. PEREZ: It was really slow.

WOODRUFF: Joe's fiancee is Crisely Perez. She's 23, works at a shoe store, and like Joe, still lives at home.

Ms. PEREZ: Are you hungry? Did you eat?

Mr. ALONZO: I had lunch.

Ms. PEREZ: What did you have?

WOODRUFF: They've known each other a long time and decided to get married three years ago.

The settle into a booth at a restaurant, and Joe puts his BlackBerry on the table. On the screen is a picture that reminds him everyday how much he needs a job. It's a tiny black and white smudge, a sonogram image. Crisely is two months pregnant, another unexpected turn in Joe's ten-year plan.

Mr. ALONZO: It was something that we weren't expecting to do so soon. We were actually expecting to do it next year. But again, it was - when I got the news it was, like, I was so happy and our whole family is very happy.

WOODRUFF: I guess I'm wondering, do you think you - do you wish you'd had more time to prepare for this moment in your life?

Mr. ALONZO: Yeah. Everyone does. This - even if we were sitting there with a bachelor's degree and a good, steady job and a baby comes into the picture — I think everyone at some point says, I wish I had more time.

WOODRUFF: Back in the restaurant Crisely is telling Joe about her wedding dress.

Ms. PEREZ: I would have paid almost the same if I would have gotten it at David's Bridal or any of those stores. So since he's a friend of my grandmother, he's trying to give us a good price. So that helps us a lot.

WOODRUFF: They want to move into their own apartment soon. And to afford the rent, Joe is thinking of taking any job he can get. Maybe he'll drive a city van for a while, he says. That's what his father does now.

I asked Joe about his dad leaving the Dominican Republic 25 years ago to start a new life in a place that held so much promise. My dad, he says, I think he's more surprised by this recession that I am.

Mr. ALONZO: He really had great expectations for this country when he came here and he never expected for this to happen to such a great nation. But I guess for my friends and I, we see it as, I guess since we read the history books and say, you know, it's cyclical. It's happened before. There's going to be peaks and there's going to be downfalls.

WOODRUFF: But it is a tough time none the less.

Mr. ALONZO: Very tough.

WOODRUFF: How do you think it's shaping you as a person? How is it affecting you as a person?

Mr. ALONZO: Since this is actually the first recession that I can remember, it's prepared me, in a sense, by telling me, you know what, if it does get better, I have to be prepared for when it could go bad again, because you're going to have a family. And they're going to be dependent on you to make sure that things get done and get paid and that you provide for them. So I just have to be prepared for it, if it does happen again.

WOODRUFF: Joe Alonzo's plans now sound different from the ones he made at 17: In November, a simple church wedding with a potluck dinner afterward. In January, the baby comes. As for college and his career in IT, that will happen too, he says, just not exactly as he planned it.

For NPR News, I'm Judy Woodruff.

MONTAGNE: Tune in tonight for Judy's final Generation Next story on the News Hour with Jim Lehrer. And you can find more from our Generation Next series at our website,

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.


And I'm David Greene.

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