02/14/2011 01:23 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Struggling Through the Recession

Some economists and politicians say the recession is over. That's not what we're hearing from families throughout Vermont.

I recently asked Vermonters to share their personal stories with me -- explaining how the recession, which started more than three years ago, has impacted their lives. In my small state more than 400 constituents have responded. We've also been hearing from people around the country.

Their messages are clear. People are finding it hard to get jobs or are now working for lower wages than they used to earn. We heard from older workers who have depleted their life savings and are worried about what happens to them when they retire. We heard from people in their 20s and 30s who are not earning enough to pay down college debt. And we heard from people whose confidence in the "American Dream" is quickly eroding. We heard from people of all ages, all walks of life, from each corner of Vermont -- and some from other states as well.

One mother, who is working two jobs and raising two children outside Burlington, Vt., wrote: "I cringe when my son's friends invite them to birthday parties, which means I have to come up with money for a gift." A woman from Windsor, Vt., who saw her business go bankrupt wrote: "We do not seem to be 'recovering' at all. We just exist on the fringes of life."

The letters are revealing and they are painful. People are fighting to keep their homes from falling into foreclosure. They are struggling with credit card debt. Marriages have been postponed. Lives have been derailed. Vermonters wrote about raiding their retirement savings to pay college tuition, keep their businesses afloat, or simply to keep gas in their car and pay their bills.

While these letters are often difficult to read because of the personal and family pain that people are sharing with us, it's important that we do so and that the reality of these lives, and the stress that millions of people are living under today, is understood as much as possible. That is why I intend to read many of these letters on the floor of the Senate. I want my Senate colleagues to hear these stories and I want America to hear these stories.

Sharing difficult personal circumstances is not an easy thing to do, so I am very grateful to those who told us about their experiences. The simple truth is that if we do not know the reality of what is going on in our country today, in terms of the struggles that people are facing, it will be impossible for us to develop -- and generate public support for -- policies which can enable us to go forward and address these horrific problems.

I hope that people around the country hear these voices from Vermont as we debate what to do about the collapse of the middle class, the increase in poverty in America and the growing gap between the very rich and everyone else.

To read the collection of the letters on my Senate Web page, click here.

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