LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:
Many Americans are still feeling the pain of the recession and are hard pressed to see light at the end of the tunnel.
NPR's David Schaper surveyed a few people about the state of the economy in suburban Chicago and has this report.
DAVID SCHAPER: Is the economy getting better, that of course, depends on whom you ask.
(Soundbite of car horn)
SCHAPER: This long Strip mall in Chicago's near Northwest suburbs is on a major thoroughfare and across the street from a hospital. And it gets quite a diverse cross section of shoppers, from doctors and nurses and other professionals to factory workers, plumbers, drywallers and others in the trades. Most say they felt this deep recession but to varying degrees. And some of those seeing the worst of the economy are those in the parking lot outside of the Home Depot.
(Soundbite of noise)
SCHAPER: Alex Mannick(ph) of Park Ridge and his brother-in-law Steve Rasik(ph) are taking a knife to a couple of long pieces of dry wall.
Mr. ALEX MANNICK: We're chopping the dry wall so we can get it in the car.
(Soundbite of chopping of dry wall)
SCHAPER: Mannick is remodeling the kitchen in his badly-outdated home. It's the kind of project he says he much rather hire somebody else to do but he can't afford it. You see, Mannick works on commission as a bill collector, and he sees no signs that the economy is getting better.
Mr. MANNICK: Not by any stretch of the imagination, I don't think, at all. In my profession, all I do is talk to people, you know, about being able to pay bills and how the economy is. And from what they've told me, you know, and from what I'm seeing it's just getting worse.
SCHAPER: Mannick says he hears reports that some sectors are improving, like the housing market.
Mr. MANNICK: I'm not seeing that. You know, just in my neighborhood, you can travel three streets and there's probably a dozen houses for sale. My parents have had their house on the market for a very long time and the price just keeps dropping and dropping and dropping, and I think the worse is still yet to come.
SCHAPER: Carpenter Frank McCann, sitting in his idling pick-up truck outside of the Home Depot, says his homebuilding industry is still reeling.
Mr. FRANK MCCANN (Carpenter): New construction's down, renovations are down. I thought things were going to turn around about a month ago but things really slowed down again. So, it's about status quo now for the past six months or so.
SCHAPER: McCann considers himself lucky because he says he's been working fairly steadily, but he knows a lot of guys who are out of work. Unemployment in the Chicago area is above 11 percent. Some manufacturers in the area are beginning to report slight increases in orders and automobile sales may have finally bottomed out. But McCann says he won't be sure a recovery is really underway until housing starts and home remodeling jobs begin to pick up.
(Soundbite of grocery carts rolling)
SCHAPER: Outside of a grocery store, a teenaged worker is rounding up carts. Before going inside, Mark Sewinski(ph), who owns a travel agency, says his business is awful.
Mr. MARK SEWINSKI (Travel Agency Owner): Because people has no money to travel. It is basically what it is.
SCHAPER: Sewinski estimates his business is down at least 50 percent so far this year and he's doing everything he can to stay afloat.
Mr. SEWINSKI: Yeah, I'm not present, I'm not taking my salary now. I'm just try to pay the bills and I have to be careful with every $5 what I spend.
SCHAPER: But Joe Auer(ph) is a little more optimistic, even though he works in aerospace, where airplane manufacturing orders remain slow.
Mr. JOE AUER: But we are doing very well to manage our end of the business. I think the economy is still needs a definite improvement. I think it will get there but it will be through the hard work or the individual American worker.
SCHAPER: Retiree Barbara Raypaz(ph) is seeing more positive economic signs.
Ms. BARBARA RAYPAZ (Retiree): It's improving inch-by-inch.
SCHAPER: What gives you the sense that things are getting a little bit better?
Ms. RAYPAZ: Stock market is going up a little bit. It's still volatile, but it's going up a little bit. You know, houses are moving a little bit better. It's just overall, little-by-little, things are improving.
SCHAPER: Ann Amaepule(ph) says the economy will eventually get better but she sees much more pain first. This nurse compares the economy to the sickest of patients.
Ms. ANN AMAEPULE (Nurse): I think you have to get worse before you get better. You just can't do a turnaround in 24 hours. It's going to take some time and it's going to get worse.
SCHAPER: Experts say the economy remains weak but very close to a bottom, and they expect some growth in the second half of the year. But they too expect a long, painful recovery.
David Schaper, NPR News, Chicago.
WERTHEIMER: You can find all our economic coverage at the new NPR.org. And for extra credit, check out our Planet Money blog, NPR.org/Money.
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