Although Kimberly Ellison sees anxiety about the economy all around her, she says she is less concerned than most people because she also sees more economic possibilities than ever before. "There's more jobs than when my parents were growing up," she said. "There's more opportunity today."
Ellison does worry about her family's ability to deal with a sudden loss of income or employment, but she remains confident that if she were to lose her factory job she would be able to find another quickly. "We'd deal with it that way," and by cutting back where necessary, she said.
To Ellison, 37, personal action and prudence remain the most effective tools for helping Americans protect their personal finances. "It's based on how you save your money and cutting back when you need to," she said.
Ellison supports President Obama and appreciates what the federal government is trying to do to help people in financial trouble, but she is not sure how much government can accomplish. "I don't think there was much hope before Obama stepped into the picture, but I don't know how much he or the government can help. You can't help someone keep a house who doesn't have a job."
Ellison, who works at a Quaker Oats factory in Danville, Ill., to help support her five children, was raised by her single mother, a nurse. That example of self-reliance has left an imprint on Ellison's thinking. She sees a need for public regulation of health care, and she likes Social Security. But in her eyes, government action is a supplement to, not a replacement for, individual action. "Social Security is good," Ellison said, "but people also have to save on their own."
This article appears in the April 25, 2009, edition of National Journal Magazine.