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Better Off 4 Years Later? A Mixed Bag Of Answers

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."

____

THE PILOT

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 â¿¿ 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 â¿¿ 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."

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