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After A Layoff, Detroit Family Struggles

Discouraging as the economic statistics are for Detroit, numbers alone tell only part of the story. For a first hand look at the human crisis, CBS News paid a visit to a hard-pressed family - home to one laid-off wage earner and four children of the recession, as CBS Evening News Saturday anchor Jeff Glor reports.

It's dinner time in the Thomas household, where things have changed dramatically ever since father James got laid off from his engineering job at Chrysler last December.

"My complete department was obliterated because of budget cuts. So that was basically 125 people gone. [Snaps.] Just like that," James Thomas said.

Trying to support four kids between 7 and 13, the Thomases went from an annual income of $101,000 to $35,000 - Celia's social worker salary - and just above the poverty line for a family of six.

All that, while trying to make a mortgage payment of $1,000 a month.

"Having James lose his job has been really, really hard," Celia Thomas said.

The family is cutting back on all non-essentials. No more soda with dinner. No movies.

"Now since our dad is laid off and does not go to work anymore, we don't shop for things we don't need like new gym shoes," daughter Courtney Thomas said.

James started coaching the girls' soccer team to avoid paying $35 fees to participate.

To avoid going on food stamps, the Thomases are getting food from their garden, and having tough discussions with the kids.

"You need water you need air, but you don't need new shoes," daughter Camille Thomas said. "We had to cut back on our wants."

The Thomases are another American family that's gone from a relatively comfortable middle class lifestyle to just barely getting by. And if you think it's tough for them, just head a few miles away, downtown, where 33 percent of the Detroit's population now lives below the poverty line, including a staggering 55 percent of children.

Alexis Johnson is one of them. Her breakfast is paid for by a school program, because her mom makes only $529 a month.

Now even school programs are being cut -- after school activities, art programs, and more.

Only 25 percent Detroit's school kids graduate from high school.

"The dropout numbers concern me," said Ken Cockrel, Detroit's interim mayor.

Cockrel is running for election and promising change.

"It's like turning an aircraft carrier," he said. "It doesn't take forever. But it's a little slow."

If that change can happen, places like Matrix Human Services will likely lead the way. Matrix is based not only in one of the poorest neighborhoods in Detroit, but one of the poorest in the country.

But it's been in business for 110 years and, says president Marcella Wilson, "I have a very simple recipe: education, education, education."

This non-profit picks up where schools have dropped off. But even groups like this are doing it with less, as philanthropic donations from the auto industry have dried up.

Matrix's clients were folks were struggling before the recession, Wilson said, and "Now it's even worse."

Matrix's kids are trying to stay happy, and doing a pretty good job of it. But what happens when they get older? Wilson is hoping that by that point they won't have to think about it.

"Times in Detroit are very tough, but Detroiters are even tougher," she said. "And we'll beat this."

Still, not every Detroit resident is sticking it out. The city is losing population at a rate second to only to the exodus from New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.

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