I live on the edge even in a good economy. I make about $1000 / month, before taxes, 3/4 of which goes towards rent and bills. I don't have any kids to worry about, though, and I cook for a living, so even when I can't afford to buy food, I can still eat at work. I got my job at just the right time, the service industry in Portland is overrun with people who would normally be doing something else. Suddenly jobs that would have been some teenager's summer spending money are a family's retirement income. I have a friend who moved here almost a year ago, and still can't find a job. She can't get an apartment without one, so she's been couch-surfing. For a year. Whenever I think about how much it sucks to be poor, I think of how much more it sucks to be homeless.
My father is a journalist. He retired last year, and got his retirement in a one-time payment, a lot of which he invested. My parents probably lost half of what they expected to live on for the rest of their lives. They have no debt, though, and while they worry about money, they don't worry about whether or not they can eat tomorrow. We're doing a lot better than a lot of people. As long as I don't get sick or pregnant, I think I can ride this one out.