RURAL WEST VIRGINIA: Telling a child, 'Honey, we just don't have the money'

Mary Sypolt pushes a full cart though Save-A-Lot, a store that carries few major brand-name products, offering cheaper, unknown brands instead. On this day, she's buying hamburger, chicken, cereal and other food for a four-day camping trip at Burnsville Lake, her family's one big vacation of the summer.

"I don't see how anyone is living on minimum wage anymore. I really don't," says Sypolt, 34, a nurse's aide at West Virginia University Hospitals in Morgantown, a 50-mile round-trip drive from her home in Kingwood. Her husband works for a lawn maintenance and landscaping company, and they have two daughters, 8 and 12.

The family survives on a combined income of about $40,000 a year.

"Gas prices hurt us some, but we drive four-cylinders, so it's not too bad. But the food prices are really hurting us," Sypolt says. "The kids complain they have nothing 'good' to eat anymore — meaning junk.

"We never had much extra before. Now we have none."

She used to let her older daughter buy a gossip magazine on a trip to the store. Not anymore. "That's $5. That's a gallon of gas."

Her daughter understands when she tells her, "Honey, we just don't have the money."

— By AP Writer Vicki Smith.


LOUISIANA: A mayor listens but feels 'powerless'

In north Louisiana, in the agriculture community of Mer Rouge, gas prices are a main topic of conversation — and concern — at hangouts like Mer Rouge Cafe. Mayor Johnny McAdams offers a sympathetic ear.

"It's, 'How high is it today?' and 'What's it doing today?"' he says. "Most everybody can get CNBC, and, as you know, they run (the price of oil) constantly."

McAdams says the town encourages conservation, from water usage to parking the car, when possible. But "that's about all we can do right now. You feel a little bit powerless about the price of crude."

"We're all concerned this isn't the highest it's going to go," McAdams adds. "I think the majority (here) think the worst is yet to come."

The government could do more to ease the crunch, he believes, adding that many in his town want Congress to open more places up to drilling. "It's time to quit thinking about the caribous and start thinking about the people."

Asked whether he's optimistic things will turn around, he says: "I hope so, but I don't have a lot of confidence in that."

— By AP Writer Becky Bohrer.


NORTHERN CALIFORNIA: Among wealthy, 'worries are different'

In the one-acre showcase garden behind her gorgeously decorated home, Suzanne Legallet is asking her lead gardener to water one area, weed another. He nods, directing his two-man crew. Together they are paid $65 an hour. They spend one day a week here.

Legallet is "not 70, but almost." On any given day, she may open her home and garden to a nonprofit organization for a fundraising party. On this day skies are gray. More than 1,000 wildfires are burning in Northern California and a veil of smoke hangs above Atherton, Calif., where the median household income tops $200,000 a year.

Legallet said she's personally unaffected by the economy, gas or food prices or other issues. Still, she's not feeling very good about where the country is heading.

"I'm obviously in the upper end of the U.S. economy and so my worries are different. I worry about my gardeners and how they're dealing with the cost of fuel, for example. Floods, fires, there are so many things going on that are going to cost everyone money. And I don't know if a change of leadership is going to make that much of a difference. There were decisions made 30 years ago about fuel efficiency and ending nuclear power that are hurting us now," she said.

She worries, too, about the future, especially for her grandchildren. And increasing prisons, declining public schools. And water supplies, waste and consumption. The worries, she says, are always there.

— By AP National Writer Martha Mendoza.


NORTH CAROLINA: Keeping faith in 'a season of testing'

Inscribed on our coins are the words, "In God We Trust." And in these troubled times, many look to a higher power than Washington or Wall Street for deliverance.

On the Sunday before Independence Day, the Rev. Dumas Harshaw Jr. of First Baptist Church in Raleigh, N.C., chose what he considered an appropriate text for the time: Genesis 22:1-14, the story of Abraham being commanded to sacrifice his son, Isaac.

Just as God was testing Abraham's faith, Harshaw told his congregation, so are we Americans in a "season of testing."

"We don't know what tomorrow may hold in America, and we don't know what's going to happen with the balance of world powers, but we ought to get ready, my friends, for something," he said, his face glistening with perspiration. "Because something is on the horizon."

His message was spelled out in block letters on a screen behind the pulpit. Keep the faith, and "The Lord Will Provide."

— By AP National Writer Allen G. Breed.


FLORIDA RETIREMENT CENTER: What does America need? 'Guts."Jobs.' 'Talk.'

The four women at the Village Oaks at Conway, an assisted living facility in sunny Orlando, weren't about to hold back.

The question: What, exactly, does America need to weather these turbulent days?

The answers:

"Guts," offers 80-year-old Jackie Maher.

"Determination," chimes in Sherry White, 66. "And jobs. Good-paying jobs. ... My son works three jobs, his wife works four. And they still can't make ends meet with their three kids."

Maher, thinking hard, adds: "And communication. That's what we need."

Amen to that, says 80-year-old Caroline Kovalcik.

"We've got to learn to talk to one another," she says. "We've really forgotten how to do that, you know."

And not just average Americans. "There is so much gridlock in Washington," says White. "They don't talk to each other any more up there. They just talk AT each other."

"Yeah," Maher says, "that's something we could use a little of in this country: Unity."

— By AP National Writer Todd Lewan.


ILLINOIS: A teenager imagines 'a new world' tomorrow

In Forest Park, Ill., luxury condominiums overlook the main drag, where specialty shops have changed the reputation of a strip once largely known for its rowdy Irish bars. In recent months, though, the list of foreclosures in the local newspaper has lengthened. Notices about unpaid utility bills and evictions also have been showing up on some front doors.

Now residents, many of them middle- and upper-income couples and families, are getting edgy about the growing groups of teens who've been roaming the streets, looking for places to play basketball and aimlessly shooting off fireworks.

"Maybe, you know, they should go around and ask some of the kids who hang out on the street and everything — ask them what they want and what they need," says 16-year-old Cody Barton, who was killing time recently with a friend at a park in the west Chicago suburb.

They need somewhere to go, he says. They need basketball courts and safe spaces to congregate. Few of them have summer jobs. But despite the tension and worries of the day, Barton remains optimistic about his future.

He wants to go to college to become a nurse and, as a teenager of African-American and Puerto Rican heritage, he takes heart in Barack Obama's historic run for the presidency.

"The world is changing from back in the day. Everything is changing," he says. "And it's a new world that we're going to be living in pretty soon."

— By AP National Writer Martha Irvine.