The Buxton family's life is stacked on shelves and piled into plastic bins in a corrugated metal warehouse behind a fire station in an industrial part of Sacramento.
For the past four months, the offices of a social service agency have been the closest thing they've had to call home.
Over in Citrus Heights, the Thomas family started out just trying to cut out frivolous stuff – Beanie Babies and Pokémon cards, bottled water and soda – with the goal of making life simpler and less expensive. Then a $300 electricity bill earlier this year kicked basic conservation into high gear.
"If you do a whole bunch of little things, it adds up," says mom Michelle Thomas.
These two families illustrate life on different parts of the economic spectrum amid a downturn that has left no one unscathed.
The state's unemployment rate has reached 7.3 percent, the highest in 12 years. Fore-closures are up 55 percent over last year. And the U.S. Census Bureau recently found that 37.7 million Americans are living in poverty, up from 36.5 million in 2006.
Robert Buxton, who spent six months in Iraq as a truck driver for the Army National Guard in 2005, is struggling to find work to sustain his family after being laid off from a welding job.
"This is a pretty low point in my life to be almost 40 years old and not have any tangible assets for my children," said the 39-year-old father of three.
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