Meanwhile, she and her husband, a mechanic, have tightened up their already frugal ways. No vacations, no big purchases — the 12-year-old car they want to replace will have to do for now. "We've never, ever lived beyond our means," she says, "but now we don't have the luxury of savings. We've used every bit of income my husband brings in. In four years we've not added to anything, we've not improved anything."
They've also assumed a new financial burden: Speaks' husband was recently diagnosed with cancer. Though he's insured, she says, their share of the bills for his medical treatment can easily mount into thousands of dollars.
Speaks doesn't think the economy is much better since the last presidential election but, she says, "I'm continually hopeful. I have a firm faith. I know I'll be taken care of. I just don't know what path I'll go down but I keep digging every day, every week."
For 14 months, Harvey Martin lived in belt-tightening mode. No new car, no travel, no bolstering his savings, no stock purchases.
The corporate pilot lost his job when the Birmingham, Ala., bank where he worked was sold, and the new owners closed the flight department in late 2010. Martin was 55, financially secure, not needing a new job, but definitely wanting one.
"When you lose a job through no fault of your own, it's some consolation," he says. "But that's not much help when you're going to the grocery store."
Friends and family urged him to take time off, but he soon was restless. "I didn't feel complete," he says. Martin signed up with an outplacement consulting firm, adjusting to a new environment where job searches involved LinkedIn and Facebook — unfamiliar territory for someone who hadn't looked for work in 17 years.
But it was at a decidedly low-tech lunch with friends that he heard scuttlebutt about a new company with two planes and one pilot. "I quickly did the math," he says. He applied, and was hired as a pilot for the auto advertising company.
Martin was thrilled to return to the cockpit this summer. "Talk about an office with a view," he says.
"Things are improving," he says, noting a jobless friend recently found work. "The recession that had been hanging over our heads — hopefully we've learned from that. ... No, things are not as good as they were four years ago when they were really rocking along. But the company is growing. My situation is good. I'm working again. It was just the luck of the draw."
Carole Delhorbe has a simple financial formula: Her two adult sons are better off, so she is, too.
Delhorbe says she could tell the economy was picking up when the two, one 32, the other 27, stopped asking her for money.
"There was a time when things were so tight for them ... as much money went out to door to pay their bills as if I had a mortgage," she says. "I knew they were never going to get anywhere if they didn't get any help."
But she noticed their calls tapered off last year and stopped this spring. Her older son's online toy and collectible business has improved, she says, and her younger son's Navy salary has increased.
As for herself, Delhorbe feels "a lot more secure" with Obama's health care program. She especially likes the provision that bans insurers from denying coverage to people with pre-existing illnesses.
Delhorbe, who lives in Ruskin, Fla., quit her job as a furniture refinisher more than two years ago because of health problems. She'd been paying her medical bills out of pocket and feared her arthritis and irregular heart beat would disqualify her from getting insurance.
"I'm so happy now that I don't have to worry about that," she says.
Delhorbe, a registered Republican who is an Obama supporter, also senses a more positive atmosphere. "The constant whining, moaning and complaining about the economy ... it's not like it was three or four years ago."
Homes in her neighborhood that had been foreclosed are now occupied, she says, and neighbors were out in their boats this summer after docking them for years.
"You knew when things were rotten: People wouldn't get together, they wouldn't have community parties. They just stopped," she says. "There was no fun for a few years. Now we're having get-togethers and we're starting to have some fun again."