Sandy Valliere lost her corporate training job during the recession, spent more than a year looking for another fulltime job, ended up taking a big pay cut, and is now rebuilding.
Mike Coffey, owner of a Fort Worth background screening services firm, saw his business grind to a halt. He cut to one employee for a short time, then saw his firm's workload rocket up. He's up to 15 staff members now and is hiring two more.
Doug Williamson and his wife Margot lost their jobs in the mortgage industry and have spent months getting back on their feet.
Who are they voting for Tuesday? Respectively: Mitt Romney, probably Gary Johnson the Libertarian, and -- in Doug Williamson's case -- leaning toward President Barack Obama. Margot Williamson isn't saying.
Are they better off than they were four years ago? It's a popular question posed by presidential candidates during campaigns since Ronald Reagan famously confronted President Carter with it in 1980. Numerous economic measures -- ranging from a recovered stock market to job gains and, finally, an uptick in housing -- point to an economy that's on much better footing today than it was four years ago at the recession's nadir.
But Romney is hoping voters will turn against Obama's handling of the economy.
Getting voters to assess whether they're better off than they were four years ago is easy. Unless they're still out of work or have other long-running problems, most say they're better off.
Will their answers guide how they vote? That's more complicated.
"There's no quick answer to anything," said Michelle Vargas, a Fort Worth consultant who was on her way to vote Thursday morning and views the country's economic problems as a result of the global crisis.
Starting from the end of the recession in June 2009, most major U.S. metro areas have fewer jobs today, said Cheryl Abbot, a regional economist for the Bureau of Labor Statistics in Dallas.
The exceptions: Houston, Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington, and Washington, D.C., which have recovered.
"It's never black and white," Abbot said. "We lost massive numbers of jobs over the last four years. We've certainly been gaining them, but it's going to take awhile."
Valliere, who lives in Alvarado with her husband, describes herself as conservative fiscally, "more middle of the road on other issues" and tending to vote Republican. She views business as reluctant to make any changes out of uncertainty over Obama policies and their impact on costs of doing business.
"They both talk it, but historically, Republicans have done a better job of being fiscally responsible," said Valliere, who has already voted for Romney.
Valliere, 52, was laid off from her corporate training job for a convenience store retailer in February 2009. She subsequently won contract work with the same company and, in October 2010, a fulltime training job with it, but at a much lower level and an $11,000 pay cut, she says.
Valliere, who's in West Virginia this week training staff members, also is building an Ignite Energy multilevel marketing business on the side.
She and her husband had a year's worth of expenses in savings and ran through that, she said. They had just paid off their mortgage when the layoff occurred.
"I didn't have to go into my retirement fund, but everything else, I depleted," she said.
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