A Young Family Toughs out the Recession

Article excerpt

STRANDS of sparkling silver tinsel and colored lights drape over almost every needle of Jeff and Michele Cutler's Christmas tree. Underneath, a number of brightly wrapped packages - most bought in October for their two-year-old son Justin - are stacked next to each other.

In their two-bedroom apartment in a residential section of Manchester, N. H., the Cutlers live comfortably. An attractive couch, chair, coffee table, TV set, and stereo fit snugly in the living room. A large gas heater fills up one corner.

But appearances mask the family's current economic situation.

In late November, Jeff, who does painting and construction work, was laid off for the third time this year. Michele, who was a full-time employee at a Kentucky Fried Chicken outlet two years ago, says she is now unable to find any full-time or part-time jobs.

"I'm out of money," Jeff says. "Every year I've always had work. The last two years we've really had to scrape."

The Cutlers are one of a growing number of families stung by the lingering recession. Not discriminating between the lower or middle class or those in blue or white-collar professions, the recession is forcing people all across the United States to get help from a source they never had to consider tapping before: welfare agencies.

Although the number of families seeking public assistance has increased in every state since July 1989, New Hampshire has the fastest growing number of AFDC (Aid to Families with Dependent Children) caseloads. According to the American Public Welfare Association in Washington, D. C., while the number of families receiving AFDC rose about 20 percent nationally from July 1989 to August 1991, New Hampshire saw a 79 percent increase.

"We're swamped," says Peter Bradley, administrator for the Office of Economic Services at the New Hampshire Division of Human Services. "We are seeing a lot of people who have lost their jobs and are coming in and applying for assistance probably for the first time ever."

Mr. Bradley says the jump in New Hampshire seems more staggering than it is partly because welfare caseloads were almost unnaturally low during the boom years of the mid-1980s. Since New England's economy took a dive in 1989, caseloads here in New Hampshire have been rapidly catching up to other states. He describes it as sort of a "market adjustment."

Two weeks ago, the Cutlers visited the state welfare office in Manchester for the first time to apply for AFDC and food stamps. They will receive a monthly check along with the food stamps to help them until they find employment. Jeff says he has sent out more than 100 resumes to different employers. …