and Shan Li

and Shan Li

Five years ago, the future looked bright for Janet Barker and her family. The eighth-grade English teacher had a secure job with annual raises. Her younger daughter was excited to be starting at the University of California at Santa Cruz. Her divorce was about to be finalized, and she would soon have her small two-bedroom house in Redondo Beach, Calif., to herself.

After years of tending to others, Barker looked forward to a few indulgences. There would be long-delayed travel to Europe and charity work in Africa. She toyed with the idea of moving to the East Coast.

Then the financial crisis struck in 2008. She has abandoned her dreams, and these days, she's just trying to hold her family together. Five people squeeze into her 1,000-square-foot house because they can't afford to live anywhere else. She's supporting her ex-husband, their daughter, an unemployed son-in-law and a grandchild.

Although the economy is recovering and stock prices are setting records, millions of middle-class Americans have been left behind.

To help pay the mortgage, Barker rents her converted garage to a childhood friend.

A few nights a week, she takes care of her 2-year-old grandson, who sleeps in a crib in her room. There's no space for his mother, Jenny Barker, who stays with friends. Jenny gave up her apartment because her flower shop was struggling.

Janet, 57, looks on the bright side: The turmoil has drawn her family closer together. She treasures the time with her grandson.

"It's sort of like an old-fashioned family," she said. "They used to move under one roof and help each other. That's what we're doing."

But she can't help but wonder how they all slipped so far, so fast. "I don't know how much more I can take," she said.

Janet Barker grew up in Redondo Beach in the 1960s and '70s, infused with a sense of civic purpose by watching John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. on her family's sage green Philco TV.

She married her college boyfriend at age 21. The marriage fizzled but produced two children, Ryan, now 36, a transport expert in aerospace, and Jenny, 33, the floral shop owner.

In her 20s and 30s, Janet worked as a reporter at the Daily Breeze, a newspaper in Torrance, Calif., where she met Bruce Hazelton, a staff photographer. They married in 1986, and their daughter Katie was born four years later. In 1994, the couple scratched together a down payment on a $260,000 California bungalow.

In 2002, Barker changed careers and became a full-time teacher at Parras Middle School in Redondo Beach.

The years leading up to the economic crisis were the family's best financially because Barker and Hazelton were both working. And though their marriage was ending, the split was amicable. Then Hazelton lost his $52,000-a-year job.

One day in January 2009, Bruce Hazelton's boss sent him to the human resources department. There, the 29-year employee earning $52,000 a year was let go.

Hazelton was devastated. He had just turned 60. The economy was tanking, and he wasn't able to get another full-time photography job.

He became disconsolate. He lost his appetite. He barely spoke.

Hazelton moved back to the house this year, and he sleeps in the TV room.

Janet Barker endured her own professional hardship.

Her once-automatic raises were replaced by furlough days that sliced into her income, which is now about $68,000 a year.

Daughter Katie Barker-Hazelton, 23, thought that by the time she graduated, the economy would have rebounded.

But she couldn't find a job after earning a degree in sociology last year. In June, she married her college sweetheart, Jason Kwok, a Hong Kong native. They occupy her mother's spare bedroom.

She had no luck getting work related to her major or her interest in teaching, and was relieved when she landed a receptionist position at a Torrance antiques dealer with a salary of $1,800 a month after taxes. That enables her to pay $400 a month toward $23,000 in student loans. She contributes to groceries for the household and tries to save as much as $500 monthly for car and other major expenses.

She and her husband live on the rest.

"I just thought it was going to be easy when I got out," said Barker-Hazelton, 23. "They tell you, 'Go to college. Get a job. It'll be great. Work hard and you'll get it.' But it really hasn't been that way."

In June, she married her college sweetheart, Jason Kwok, a Hong Kong native, at the Compton, Calif., courthouse, in part so he could live and work in the United States. They occupy her mother's spare bedroom.