Main Street Voices Irritation With Wall Street

Mark Endres has 19 years left to pay on his mortgage and the Philadelphia barber is not expecting anyone to cut him any slack. So what's all this talk about the government writing a $700 billion check to Wall Street?

Plans for a massive federal bailout may come with calls for reforming the nation's big investment banks, but "the same people are still in charge," the 51-year-old Endres said Tuesday, as he snipped at the hair of a patron. "They are still sitting back, sipping their lattes, driving their Jaguars."

Americans don't like much of what they're hearing about a $700 billion proposal to bail out listing financial institutions, especially the possibility that it could reward the very investment firms that got us into this economic mess in the first place.

But in the end, most people interviewed across the nation by The Associated Press agreed something has to be done, even if it turns out to be a bitter medicine for taxpayers to swallow.

"My resentment is toward the fat cats on Wall Street who are probably going to ride off in the sunset with millions in their saddlebags," said Margaret Tate, a 52-year-old copywriter, interviewed during a lunch break in downtown Atlanta. "I have a feeling that a lot of those people aren't going to come out of this hurting the way the average American will."

Nearly two-thirds of the public thinks the government bailout plan is the right thing to do, according to a Pew Research Center for the People and the Press survey released Tuesday. About 30 percent said it was the wrong thing to do.

The telephone survey of 1,003 adults was conducted Sept. 19-22 and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.

The nation's deepening financial crisis and its roots in securities backed by subprime loans are not easy to understand. But after hearing about those problems for more than a year and a half, many people have had time to think the situation over.

"I don't like it. I don't think anybody likes it," said Jeff Mays, of Westerville, Ohio, a suburb of Columbus, interviewed outside a Kroger supermarket. "I can agree with it from a practical standpoint, but ideologically, I don't like the government messing in the markets."

Bob Heglin, a suburban Cincinnati homeowner, said he stays current on his mortgage and isn't thrilled about paying for others' irresponsibility. But he sees federal intervention as a necessary step to stabilize the economy and prevent more damage.

"I don't believe in rewarding bad behavior, but the other side of it is the people that the bad behavior will affect," said Heglin, a 50-year-old who has worked in the real estate and title industries for more than two decades. He said he wants accountability for Wall Street executives and delinquent mortgage holders, and tighter rules for the lending industry.

"I hope it's not really a bailout," he said. "I hope it's a corrective measure to stop the bleeding and then to work toward mending or healing the crack."

The talk of a bailout led Kristen Brown, a 37-year-old commercial escrow officer in Phoenix, to wonder who needs government help — and whether they deserve it.

"I remember watching some of my friends buy houses, and I was like, 'How? I mean, Your car is covered in duct tape and baling wire, and you're buying this gigantic house!'" Brown said. "Those are the people who need help to keep the economy going, but they don't necessarily deserve it."

In Chicago, Gael Mennecke, who is 57 and works for a nonprofit group, said she opposes the bailout, but would support helping homeowners who are behind on their mortgages.

"Give them an opportunity to have the loan restructured," she said. "You have communities with boarded up houses. It looks bad for property values."

Giving help to homeowners in trouble is easier to swallow than giving assistance to banks, said Lloyd Elson, a credit manager for a division of Target Corp., in downtown Minneapolis.

"All things being equal, I would rather reward the ... person in that house than someone on Wall Street who made their money off of it already," Elson said Tuesday.

There was wide agreement Tuesday that Washington should try to find a way to help the economy without doling out money to Wall Street.

"I understand the ripple effect and that something has to be done," Piper said Brian Piper in Doral, Fla. "I just wish there was better regulatory practices by the lenders at the time."

Waiting for friends on a street corner in downtown Minneapolis, lawyer Rich Erstad of St. Paul, Minn., said he didn't think the government should bail out companies.

"There's a balance," Erstad said. "You obviously don't want it to drag down the rest of the economy, but on the other hand people take risks, that's part of capitalism. And there's a downside to taking risks, too. And if you're just bailing people out, then you're encouraging that."


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