SIKESTON -- Joel Montgomery Sr. of Sikeston endured the worst and longest economic collapse in the history of the modern industrial world -- the Great Depression, which lasted from the end of 1929 until the early 1940s.
So when the 88-year-old banker thinks about the state of today's economy, he knows it could be a lot worse.
"This is not the end of the world," Montgomery said. "... I experienced the Depression, and everyone made it through. We just worked and everybody helped everybody. We didn't have any kind of government support, and we made it through the Depression."
The Great Depression saw rapid declines in the production and sale of goods and a sudden, severe rise in unemployment. Businesses and banks closed their doors, people lost their jobs, homes, and savings, and many depended on charity to survive. In 1933, at the worst point in the depression, more than 15 million Americans--one-quarter of the nation's workforce--were unemployed.
Although it wasn't anyone he worked with, Montgomery said he remembers people jumping out of windows because their financial situations were so terrible.
But Montgomery said the United States -- as wonderful as it is -- is a different country now than it was back then.
"We'll never go through that again. We'll have a revolution before a depression because people won't put up with it," Montgomery said.
Montgomery and others eventually recovered. Since 1957 Montgomery Bank has been family-owned and today is one of the largest family-owned banks in Missouri. He said people today will recover, too.
As officials this week in Washington, D.C., and on Wall Street scrambled to come up with a plan to recover the nation's economy, local financial experts like Montgomery recently weighed in on the situation.
Dr. Bruce Domazlicky, director of the Center for Economic and Business Research at Southeast Missouri State University, described the state of the nation's economy: "It's a mess."
Domazlicky said there are many financial institutions that are owed money from subprime mortgages, which are types of loans granted to individuals with poor credit histories.
One possible solution to the problem is the $700 billion financial industry bailout plan passed by Congress and signed by President Bush on Friday.
"The U.S. Treasury is proposing to buy off those assets and get them off the banks' balance sheets so they can recover and lend .... The government has these securities and has to determine how much taxpayers will foot the bill," Domazlicky said.
Whether the proposed $700 billion is going to be enough or whether it will solve the problem is unknown, Domazlicky said.
"It's all pretty tough to know what the outcome will be," Domazlicky said.
Students in Carole Henry's business education class at Charleston High School are learning about the business cycle -- how the economy can go from prosperity into a recession, depression and recovery.
"It's right on time with what's going on in the economy," Henry said about her lesson plans.
Her students recently watched the film "Cinderella Man" which is set during the Great Depression so they recognize what's happening, Henry said.
"They've been able to develop that we're not there and realize the economy looks more recessionary," Henry said.
Students have asked questions about the economy, the teacher said.
"They're concerned and worried about their own job outlooks," Henry said.
Henry estimated three of the 10 students in her business course have jobs.
"They worry about being laid off because over here in Charleston there have been some businesses that have downsized. They're worried about the price of gas, and they are seeing how the price of gas is influencing their ability to have less money to spend on discretionary items," Henry said.
And there are other financial issues individuals should consider, Domazlicky said.
"What I'm doing, personally, is trying to ride it out and not make any major changes," Domazlicky said. "It usually bounces back and it has in the past -- even if takes a year or so."
For those who contribute to a 401(k) fund, that should be one of their first concerns when looking at the state of today's economy, Domazlicky said.
"One of the things that has happened is the stock market has gone down, and anyone participating in 401(k) retirement saw it go down. Somebody retiring in a year or so may have to decide whether to cash out their pensions," Domazlicky said.
This is a very serious decision, he said.
"Generally, any losses that you've got are on paper. If you decide to cash in (your 401(k)), they become actual. If you have time to recover, the market can eventually recuperate over time. If you're hoping to get out of the labor market in a couple years, you have to ask yourself: will it be able to recover?" Domazlicky said.
As long as people's accounts are insured by Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, which insures bank deposits up to $100,000, they should be OK, Domazlicky said.
However, those wanting to make big purchases will likely have a tougher time being approved for a loan, he said.
"Banks have become more cautious about their credit lending and that affects everybody. If someone wants to buy a new house, it's going to be a lot more difficult. They have to have a good credit history," Domazlicky said.
The housing market has remained depressed and unemployment has increased.
"Southeast Missouri employment has fallen ... but it's not anywhere near catastrophic as it was in the 1930s -- unless, of course, you lose your job," Domazlicky said.
Domazlicky said the United States probably may have a recession but not an overly severe one.
And Montgomery remains optimistic.
"Steady as you go. Don't panic or get excited. It will work out," Montgomery said.
He continued: "We've got a great country. Every boy and girl can be everything they hope and want to be. All they have to do is apply themselves."
Sure, there will be hard knocks along the way, he said.
"Get up in the morning. Take a shower. Brush your teeth and go on with your day," Montgomery advised. "And this, too, shall pass."