Financial Futures

Young adults in Tucson remain hopeful despite the grim economy

As he cradles his infant son tenderly in his arms, Jeremy Bogard calls the United States' economic future "worrisome."

"Debt is my birthright as an American," says the 31-year-old high school teacher, citing the country's enormous IOU.

As for his personal financial position: "I want to start planning for retirement, but it's scary about where to put money."

Like many people around his age, Bogard is experiencing his first serious economic downturn. How it plays out, and how it will impact people of his generation, are issues that Bogard and other 30-somethings will have to confront.

In Tucson, that means dealing with an unemployment rate which rose from 4 percent to 5.8 percent between November 2007 and November 2008. On top of that, the local real estate meltdown has left many young homeowners upside down on their mortgages, owing more than their houses are worth.

That's the situation Bogard and his wife face. They bought their midtown home about three years ago; he calls his mortgage situation "pretty scary," and says he's having problems getting accurate information from the media regarding the economic turmoil.

"You get so many spins on what is happening, and don't know what media to use (for information)."

Jennie Smith agrees. The 30-year-old believes the media's coverage of the nation's financial situation "is full of shock-jockeys and fear mongering."

On the other hand, Smith says of Americans fiscal habits: "We should take more responsibility for our actions and have healthier spending."

Her husband, Brian, makes an observation from the dining room of the couple's home near Park Place Mall. "When you're in your 20s, you have fun," he says. "But by my age (31), you're looking at 401(k) plans and starting to pay attention to things."

The Smiths say their financial future looks fine. He's employed as an academic adviser at the UA, and she works as a tech-account manager for a small Tucson company.

"I'm hopeful about the new administration," Jennie Smith says, anticipating that President Barack Obama might be able to improve things economically.

Derek Lahr also looks forward to the Obama presidency. "I'm very exited about the 'green' economy (proposals)," the 26-year-old says, "and hoping job opportunities for our generation come out of them."

However, Lahr is presently volunteering at a downtown art gallery and living on inherited money.

"In some ways," he suggests, "it feels now like it must have felt when (Franklin D. Roosevelt) came into office. We need jobs in this country."

Raymond Sands concurs with that statement as he waits for a Sun Tran bus. Unemployed at 35 years of age, he calls his personal financial situation "pretty dismal right now."

"It's hard to find work," Sands says of Tucson's economy, "and part-time work is even harder to find." As a result, he's gone back to school.

Joanna Rivas has also had a hard time finding a job, even though she has experience working in medical billing. "I've applied for clerical, convenience-store and fast-food jobs for months, but I haven't had much luck."

As a result, the 25-year-old Rivas is volunteering at a downtown museum to strengthen her résumé. Despite her lack of a job, though, she is optimistic about her economic future.

Also optimistic is 31-year-old Sebastian Lauber. "In five years," he predicts, "both the nation and I personally will be better off, and things will be back to where they were in 2005."

For now, Lauber "feels really lucky to have a job." In October, the seven-year Tucson resident left a sales position at financially troubled Tucson Newspapers for a similar job at Cox Communications.

Reflecting on the changes which have come to America's economy, Lauber says: "My father just retired at 62 after working for one company for 35 years. Since I got out of college, I've worked for five companies, and wouldn't be surprised if I work for five more before I retire."

Lauber says he and his wife--she teaches at a charter school--are looking to buy their first home. "It's a good time to get a house," he says. "The market has probably bottomed out, and it's a buyers' market if we can get approved (for a mortgage)."

Like others of his generation, Lauber, too, is encouraged by Obama's presidency: "The political race got people involved. ... They've got a lot of work to do, and it doesn't seem it will be fixed overnight."

While 30-year-old Brian Hallmark thinks his personal economic future is "pretty decent," he sees the nation's condition differently. He, too, may be optimistic about the new administration, but he isn't as encouraged about the country's economy.

"In the short-term," Hallmark says, "it will be quite bad, especially for those caught up in the housing situation."

Hallmark adds that he's happy he rents. Indicating he almost bought a house some time ago, he considers himself fortunate that he did not. But at the same time, he thinks he might be buying a house within the next year.

While the nation has had to cut back economically, Hallmark thinks that may be a good thing for the United States.

"Maybe (the economic downturn) will have a silver lining ... and the U.S. is still doing pretty darn well," Hallmark says.