Family recession (Brattleboro Reformer)

By Robert Plain, Reformer Staff

WESTMINSTER -- In many ways, the Lyndes are a typical Vermont family.

Bob, the husband and father, often works more than 40 hours a week to keep the bills under control. Babs, mother and wife, works as a town lister as well as acting as the family CEO -- paying bills, food shopping and delegating chore responsibilities.

Their 25-year-old son David is in the early phases of starting a life of his own after a six-year stint in the military.

"We're lower middle income," Babs Lynde said, in between fielding phone calls about people's tax bills at the Westminster Town Hall earlier this week. "We're not quite middle income, but there are people a lot worse off than us."

But if the Lynde's can be said to be a typical Vermont family, then the typical Vermont family is being squeezed from almost every angle by rising gas prices and a slumping economy.

"This economy is affecting individual people," she said. "It's affecting our friends and neighbors. It's affecting our family. It's everyone from the middle class on down."

Bob Lynde was a truck driver for more than 30 years, until he literally parked his rig in his yard on Christmas Eve, after a year that cost him nearly $80,000 for fuel and another $30,000 in repairs.

Babs Lynde has an ever-increasing list of job duties, but said the corresponding hour increase had to be cut from Westminster's town budget this year because of tight financing.

And David Lynde spent his first two months after leaving the Navy earlier this year finding out how hard it is to get a job. He applied or inquired at nearly 20 different businesses with no success. When he was finally offered a job, it was at Home Depot in Brattleboro, which announced it was closing just three days later. Now, one month and only two pay checks later, he's back on the job hunt.

"They hired me on Monday and announced they were closing on Thursday," he said. "I found out on Friday. They were supposed to contact all the employees but I guess I slipped through the cracks.

"I figured it wouldn't be easy to find a job, but I didn't expect it to be quite so hard," he said of the job market. "After six and one-half years in the Navy, it feels like I'm starting all over again."

Home Depot did offer to transfer him to its Keene, N.H., store. But at $9.75 an hour for 30 hours a week, he can't afford the commute.

"At the end of the day, I'd be spending more than I'm earning," David Lynde said. "Working in Brattleboro, I'm breaking even. My parents' financial situation is not good. I've been giving them a little extra money to help them out."

Bob Lynde

Bob Lynde was a truck driver since he was 18 years old. Three years ago, he finally bought his own rig. The first two years went great, he said. Then diesel prices started to climb. The company he moved freight for altered its distribution plan and he had to take longer runs if he wanted work. Not only was the price of diesel rising fast, but he had to use more of it just to stay in business. It also meant more time away from home.

"My pay wasn't matching my costs," he said. "I saw it happening but I was hoping the market would change. I'm glad I got out when I did."

For his wife, it wasn't soon enough.

"She wanted me out a couple of years ago," he said. "I kept saying, 'it'll change, something will happen.' It was pretty stressful. It caused some problems. She'd break down and cry. It was heartwrenching."

The Lyndes considered filing for bankruptcy in January, after he gave up driving. They also thought about putting their home on the market and living out of their camper.

"Our house is almost paid for," Bob said. "If we can just stick it out a little longer, it'll be all right."

Then he got a job with JELD WEN Windows and Doors in North Springfield. Financial disaster was averted, but a little less than a month later, their son David came back home from his Navy assignment. Their food bill doubled and their utilities increased. Happy as they were to have their son home, it was also a drain on their bottom line.

David Lynde

David Lynde, an honor roll student, graduated from Bellows Falls Union High School in 2001. He left for the Navy that fall looking for an education in technology.

"I told the recruiter I wanted to learn about computers," he said. But the computer class he signed up for was "dropped because there weren't enough students."

He ended up learning electronic calibration instead -- a skill, he said, there is little use for in the private sector.

"I can't really think of many civilian uses for it," he said of his ability to test the functioning of electronic equipment. "I checked out the electricians but they're not looking for anyone."

There is a computer class at the Community College of Vermont he plans to take. But because of an error in his GI Bill paperwork, he won't be getting any education assistance from the Navy. Thus, even a community college class will be yet another financial hardship.

"I signed all the papers," David said. "It was a bureaucratic error on their part. They didn't file the original paperwork."

The result: he never set aside money from his Navy pay check for college so there was nothing for the military to match. He's been working with the Veterans' Affairs Office in Virginia to rectify the mistake.

"It's very common for people to have pay problems," he said. "These mistakes are common in the military in general. It was a pretty crushing blow."

His plan was to enter college after the Navy. But because he'll need loans to do so, and in the wake of his parents recent difficulties, he at the very least needs a job before he can entertain that option.

Babs Lynde

Though Babs Lynde experienced the least bad luck in the family, she has the most perspective on what her family is going through.

"It's not just us," she said. "Being in town hall, I see it happening to everyone."

But it's happening to her, too. She won't be able to work the last two weeks in June because the funding for her position will be expended for the fiscal year.

"I have to cut back when we most desperately need it," she said.

The last year has been difficult for her. She lived without insurance as her husband's trucking business failed. Then came the threat of bankruptcy, and maybe even losing their home.

"There were a lot of sleepless nights," she said. "I thought we were going to have to sell everything we owned and then some. It was scary for us. We didn't know what was going to happen next."

She's changed her grocery-buying habits, picking store brands over name brands, imposed family-wide restrictions on water use to try to save money. She canceled their land line phone service.

"We used to go out once a week," she said. "Other than our anniversary, I can't remember the last time we went out."

In an effort to save her husband's trucking business, they financed its debt on credit cards. Now her credit rating is no better off than his trucking business.

"I used to have fantastic credit," Babs said. "We bought our house on my credit. But as of sometime last year, our credit was so bad we couldn't even get another credit card."

Times are so tight, she had to ask her son to help them pay the bills.

"One of the most horrible feelings in life is to have to ask your son to help out," she said.

"But we had to have him help out. We were paying $100 a week on groceries. Now it's up to $200, so we're splitting it three ways."

David is also investing some of his Navy savings to insulate the basement so his family will conserve heating costs this winter.

"I know that will save us a lot this winter," Babs said. "We won't have to burn as much wood."

By then, she's hoping the economy will have turned around and their family-wide recession will be behind them.

"We're hoping by next year this will all be a thing of the past," she said. "Hopefully there will be enough cost of living increases. Maybe we'll be able to sell the truck."