Chicago-Area Family Finds Opportunity In Downturn The Johnsons, who make about $200,000 a year and live in an affluent suburb of Chicago, say that despite the state of the economy, they're making only small changes in their daily lives. "We're not in any panic mode," John Johnson says.
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Chicago-Area Family Finds Opportunity In Downturn

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Chicago-Area Family Finds Opportunity In Downturn

Chicago-Area Family Finds Opportunity In Downturn

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

Today on several NPR programs, we've brought you kitchen-table conversations among families struggling with their finances.

Mr. DAVID LESHINSKI (Boston Resident): I would say that we were upper-middle class and we sank to middle class, and now we're sinking below that.

Ms. DEBBIE IRONSIDE (Dallas Resident): We think twice about where we're going to go, why we're going there - you know, our family doesn't visit as much.

BLOCK: That was Debbie Ironside in Dallas and David Leshinski(ph) outside Boston, from stories on NPR's Day to Day and Morning Edition. Not everyone is struggling, though. The Johnson family lives in Winnetka, Illinois. It's an affluent Chicago suburb. As NPR's Cheryl Corley reports, the Johnsons are concerned about the shaky economy, but they also believe it provides opportunities.

CHERYL CORLEY: John Johnson is in his early 50s. He's a painting contractor who runs his own business, G-Town Painters. He started the business with a friend to help pay his way through college. Jody Johnson, in her late 40s, is a senior marketing executive at All State Insurance Company, where she's worked for 25 years. As John starts making a couple of glasses of ice water in the kitchen, Jody settles in at the kitchen table.

Ms. JODY JOHNSON (Senior Marketing Executive, Allstate Insurance Company): We've lived here 13 years now and you know, since the time we bought it, the value has gone up exponentially. I would say it's three times what we bought it for. It's nice having a contractor in the family.

CORLEY: The Johnsons' large, airy kitchen is an addition to the 100-year-old, updated frame cottage. The village they live in, Winnetka, about 20 miles from Chicago's downtown, is one of the North Shore's wealthier suburbs. The median household income is about $200,000. That's not too far off from what the Johnsons make. And they say despite the state of the economy, they're only making small changes in their daily lives.

Mr. JOHN JOHNSON (Owner, G-Town Painters): We're not in any panic mode. I mean, we're not getting foreclosed on; we're still not going to change our lifestyles. And I think we're just going to move on.

Ms. JOHNSON: I think we're changing it somewhat, though. I think that we don't go out for dinner maybe as much as we used to.

Mr. JOHNSON: That's because we have kids.

Ms. JOHNSON: Yeah. That's true.

CORLEY: But Jody says their long-term finances have been affected. She's kept a close watch on her profit-sharing funds and pension plans, and those have been going down rapidly.

Ms. JOHNSON: Certainly, that's disturbing after 25 years in a company. You know, you hope that that's going to be part of your retirement. And you're watching it go down and down, and re-balancing it and trying to make sure that you have the right risk level but doesn't seem to be working at the moment.

CORLEY: John says he's been trying to cut back on gas and transportation costs. But he says the past three months, business has been good as people in the North Shore's moneyed communities decide to take little extra care of their homes instead of perhaps buying a new one.

Mr. JOHNSON: I have some well-established clients, and it's been wonderful, actually, in these times.

Ms. JOHNSON: Well, he does a lot of commercial, too. And so he does schools and park districts and you know, they always need to improve.

Mr. JOHNSON: And they usually like to hire locally.

CORLEY: So John's business is good. Jody's job is secure. And the Johnsons believe they have plenty of time to recoup any investment losses even the drops in the college-fund accounts they've set up for their two sons.

Mr. JOHNSON: I do watch them. I mean, don't get me wrong.

CORLEY: But again, the Johnsons say it's no time to panic.

Ms. JOHNSON: I actually think it's...

Mr. JOHNSON: I mean...

Ms. JOHNSON: It's a good time to buy.

Mr. JOHNSON: Yeah. I agree with that. I mean, we've been sitting on idle cash. So, you know, we didn't invest that monies and I think it was probably a good idea.

Ms. JOHNSON: I think there is definitely bargains to be had if you do your homework and make sure that you know, they have good management and the right earnings. Down the line, a good strategy. I think it's time.

Mr. JOHNSON: I think there's a rebound coming.

CORLEY: You think there's a rebound?

Mr. JOHNSON: Oh, yeah.

CORLEY: As the couple chuckled at the prospect of a quick economic recovery, John also crossed his fingers for good luck. Cheryl Corley, NPR News.

BLOCK: And you can listen to today's other stories about families dealing with the economic crisis; it's at npr.org.

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