Small business, she says, is self-reliant. "The buck stops with me," she says. "We don't have anybody else to look to for help. I wouldn't sit back and wait for somebody to bail me out. I'm not counting on Washington to bring me anything. I do it myself."
In the high-risk, high-reward world of farming, Randy Dreher doesn't measure his finances in four-year election cycles.
His fortunes revolve around crop prices, exports, and of course, the caprices of nature.
Despite a blistering drought this year, the fifth-generation Iowa farmer was left pretty much unscathed, the high crop prices offsetting his reduced crop. These are golden times in America's heartland, and as evidence, Dreher points to a record land sale in Audubon County, where he farms 200 acres.
Farm land recently was sold for a whopping $11,900 an acre. The buyer: a 75-year-old farmer.
"When you set a county record, there's got to be a lot of optimism," says Dreher, who grows corn and beans and raises pigs and cows on the same plot of land in west-central Iowa where his great-great grandfather settled more than 100 years ago.
Farm land values have skyrocketed across Iowa. In Dreher's county, for instance, in just a two-year span ending in 2011, an acre jumped from $4,537 to $7,240 — and the climb isn't over, according to Michael Duffy, an Iowa State University economist.
Dreher says agriculture is enjoying its best days since he was born in 1980.
"If you can't make it in farming now, you'll never make it in farming," he says. "If you can't make money, find something else to do."
And yet, he sees clouds in the larger economic picture.
"I think about the debt and Social Security and Medicare. Where all those dollars are going to come from is very alarming to me." Dreher says. "It's like going to the bank every day, knowing you're overextended and have to pay it back someday. ... We can't borrow ourselves into oblivion."
Dreher says he and his wife have saved more in recent years, but being prudent and conservative has its limits.
"You can be responsible and be making progress in your own little world, but there are outside factors you can't control," he says. "You prepare for the worst, but you can only do so much."
THE JOB HUNTER
For Linda Speaks, life in 2008 and now is a study in contrasts.
Four years ago, she had a steady job, a middle-class income and the comfort that comes with saving for retirement.
Today, she's in the middle of a long, frustrating search for work, her savings are gone and her unemployment benefits will soon expire.
When the tobacco company where she was an administrative assistant and events coordinator asked for retirement volunteers in late 2009, Speaks decided to leave. She figured it wouldn't be hard finding a job, considering her three-decade work history. Hundreds of resumes later, her search continues.
"At points, it's very depressing," she says. "It just invalidates 32 years of experience you thought would be of value to somebody at some point somewhere. ... I don't feel of worth to anyone."
At 57, Speaks wants to keep working. "I don't care to sit on the porch and rock my years away," she says. "I still have a lot to give. I'm organized and detail-oriented."
Speaks considered starting a small business in the Winston-Salem, N.C., area, and took some community college courses, but with the sagging economy, the timing seemed wrong. And with companies doing more with less, she says, "That leaves me on the outside. I can't get my foot in the door anywhere."
Speaks regularly attends meetings of Professionals in Transition, a support group for the jobless and underemployed.