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'It's scary. I'm scared for our children's future'

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It was hard to avoid money talk Tuesday.

A triple-whammy economic forecast came early and stuck, dominating conversation on the North Coast.

It started with morning gloom delivered by Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, who said declining housing prices, a weak labor market and skyrocketing oil and food prices are likely to continue dragging down the economy.

Around the same time, President Bush tried offering relief, saying he plans to help stabilize the mortgage lenders Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and lift the ban on offshore oil drilling.

But then the Labor Department said wholesale inflation, driven by skyrocketing gas and food costs, rose by 9.2 percent for the 12 months ending in June -- the fastest pace since summer 1981.

Perhaps the reaction is predictable:

"It's scary. I'm scared for our children's future," said Stephanie Koppy, 23, of Cloverdale. "It's like the government helps the really poor or the really rich, and if you're in the middle, it's a really hard place."

Koppy is a married, stay-at-home mom with a 16-month-old girl and a 4-year-old boy.

She and her husband are renters looking to buy a three-bedroom house. But they haven't found anything decent in their range, up to $300,000, in the past year.

"I always knew it would be tough, but not this tough," Koppy said of the housing market.

That's just the start of their woes. They bought a Chevrolet Tahoe a year ago. The roomy interior was great for the kids. But gas mileage? Not so much.

"My husband commutes 25 minutes to work at a grocery store in Ukiah. He was promoted, but with the gas now it's really bad. He doesn't drive his Chevy truck. He'll probably get a commuter car," she said.

Jack, a 62-year-old Vietnam veteran, has also given up driving his truck, a diesel pickup.

"I use my Saturn. It's a 1999 I kept parked for when this happens. It only has 65,000 miles and gets 40 miles to the gallon," he said, declining to give his last name because he doesn't want a negative reaction to his recently changed political views.

He said he's always voted Republican. But not this year. He blames President Bush for the nation's economic woes and is against offshore oil drilling.

"I think he's the biggest problem," he said. "He's letting the economy go broke. Diesel goes up and everything is affected from the ground up."

Luis Fiallos, 53, of Healdsburg has a suggestion for curbing high oil prices: Seize oil companies.

"If they want the economy to get better, they need to do what Chavez did in Venezuela," he said. "Take over the oil and nationalize it; it went down to 12 cents a gallon. There's enough oil here for domestic use."

Fiallos works in the computer department at the Redwood Oil Co. in Rohnert Park. He moved to that town first from El Salvador 25 years ago.

At that time, his rent was $220 a month for a one bedroom, he said. Now, the same apartment is $1,000, he said.

"The economy is just going to get worse," he said. "Look at the housing market, a lot of people are suffering, losing their houses. It's going to be harder for the next generation."

It's a dire but realistic outlook, said Kelly Gaab, a teacher at the private Sonoma Country Day School in Santa Rosa.

"It's just harder for everybody. We're more aware of everything, like the energy use" at the school, said Gaab, 36.

She's a married mother of a 9-year-old boy and a 6-year-old girl. When her son was 1, she and her husband put $1,000 in his college savings fund. Now, eight years later, it's at $900.

"At its lowest, it was $300," she said. "We're not contributing money to it anymore."

They're not struggling; they even bought a boat recently, she said, "so actually we're helping the economy."

But she's making changes: driving less, avoiding running appliances and the air conditioner for long, and no longer leaving the sprinklers on for the kids to run through.

"I don't agree with what Bush said today," she said. "I think the economy's just going to get worse."

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