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Americans Struggle Through A Day In The Recession

SHARON COHEN

It's a rainy spring morning and Tamara Ogier plants herself at a table in a Spartan room in the Atlanta federal courthouse, computer and tape recorder at hand, ready to hear another day's stories of financial ruin.

Couples facing foreclosure. Down-and-out real estate agents. Merchants who've shut their doors. Some clutch folders, some couples hold on to each other as they sit on pew-like benches, waiting to tell the court-appointed bankruptcy trustee how they ended up deep in debt.

"I understand the assumption that we're the guys in the black hats," Ogier says, but "there are a lot of times when I'm actually able to do a lot of good."

It's a sunny morning 745 miles away, as Jerry Miller tools along Iowa's back roads, grumbling about folks who can't manage their money. He has just one credit card. He has no debts, but at almost 75, he feels he needs to keep working just to keep pace. He wonders, too, if he'll have to sacrifice for other people's mistakes.

"I can't believe because they got themselves in this situation, it's falling on us to pay it back," he says, heading to the first pharmacy where he'll make deliveries on this day. "Lord, you're going to set a college kid loose with a credit card? Buy a house that costs ten times your salary?"

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