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Eye on America: Millionaires

DAN RATHER: In tonight's Eye on America, CBS concludes our two-part report on Americans starting with little and becoming millionaires in the stock market. CBS NEWS Economics Correspondent Ray Brady reports it's happening more often now, thanks, in part, to an employee benefit that was once available only to the very top executives.

RAY BRADY: Just 14 years ago, Jennifer Overstreet was an $18,000 a year mail room assistant, but she struck it rich. California's high-tech Oracle Corporation gives stock options to its employees, even employees in the mail room.

JENNIFER OVERSTREET: I got this little grant of 200 shares or-- or whatever it was. And, you know, what that meant was they were making an investment in me. Cool.

BRADY: Cool is right. Thanks to those company options, Jennifer bought this home. It's a light and airy 8,000 square feet. She quit her job and is redoing that house from top to bottom. Though she won't give numbers, at age 36, Jennifer's a millionaire plus.

OVERSTREET: I never in my wildest dreams thought-- none of us could ha-- could have predicted that-- it would have turned out this way.

BRADY: Stock options work this way: The worker gets the right to buy a certain number of company shares at a guaranteed price of, say, $5 each. Stock goes down, option's worthless; stock goes up to $40, $50 a share, any price, you still pay just $5 a share. In the past, options went only to high-ranking executives with major corporations, but in a trend that started with high-tech companies, options are now going to more and more rank and file workers, like the workers at your nearby Home Depot.

MAN: Electrical five seven, someone in electrical five seven.

BRADY: In fact, company co-founder Arthur Blank says Home Depot's made more than 1,000 millionaires, many still on the job.

Are you telling me there are secretaries still working there that are worth $3 to $5 billion?

ARTHUR BLANK: Yes, I'm telling you that.

BRADY: Ten years ago, Delilah Syperda started working at Home Depot as a clerk making slightly over minimum wage, but with stock options. What's she worth now?

DELILAH SYPERDA: I am comfortable-- comfortable. Yes, I am, and I'm not going to tell you how comfortable I am. You just guess. I am comfortable.

BRADY: So let's guess. For workers at the start of the options program, even just $1,000 worth of Home Deport options, not a lot, is now worth $480,925.38.

SYPERDA: There are days that go by when I-- when I don't look at the price tag on the things I buy. That's not wise, but it feels very, very good.

BRADY: Does all this sound like a dream come true?

GREG BALDWIN: My goal, my dream is to play the Senior Tour. My golf game has to continue to get better.

BRADY: For store manager Greg Baldwin, his options, $3 a share, now worth more than $51 a share-- those options may make that dream come true.

BALDWIN: With the options, by the time I reach 50, whih is in four years, I should have the option to play the tour or stay with the company.

BRADY: With the number of companies giving options to workers tripling in the last five years, more Americans like Greg Baldwin may yet get a chance to share the wealth.

In Atlanta, I'm Ray Brady for Eye on America.