BROOKSVILLE — It's been a tough fall for many adults, who aren't used to seeing the nation's economy in a free-fall.
But it hasn't been easy for kids, either. For some, it has completely changed their outlook.
On a recent morning in Grace Gordon's marketing management class at Central High School, 17 students shared their thoughts with the on who's to blame for the near wrecking of the economy they will soon enter, and what should be done about it.
"I think the American people caused it," said senior Andrew Altringer. "The CEOs, too. They were greedy and wanted the money. I think the banks should have been more responsible in seeing what people's actual salaries were, before giving out the money."
The students didn't have a lot to say about the exotic financial instruments — those collateralized debt obligations or mortgage-backed securities — that some blame for Wall Street's meltdown.
But many knew of neighbors in trouble, and houses in the neighborhood that just wouldn't sell.
"The banks were giving out all those loans," said senior Patrick Mulholland. "And people couldn't (pay) their money back."
The class split down the middle on the wisdom of rescuing troubled banks and automakers. Some worried that the debts of a bailout would bring trouble later, in the form of towering deficits.
"I think they should fail," said Zachary Martin, a junior. "Somebody's going to come up and take their place."
But senior Kevin Grier said those failures might prove too damaging to the economy, particularly in the case of the automakers.
"If (we) bail them out, they may be able to start where they left off," he added. "We lose jobs in turn, when they go belly up."
He said the government should demand that automakers produce more environmentally friendly cars in return for help. Others said there should be union concessions, too.
Some see a bleak future, and have changed their career plans to prepare for the worst.
Before the crisis, junior Michelle Venezia wanted to be an astronomer. Now she worries that a career in the sciences might be too dependent on grants, and has turned to something that feels more reliable.
"Now I want to go into hospitality and tourism management," she said.
But some good may come of the crisis. A few students predicted the Crash of 2008 could produce something nearly unheard of in recent times: a generation of thrifty, cautious spenders.
"You don't have to go into debt if you have a credit card," said junior Kristin Cooper. "People need to practice self control."
Several said they have already been flooded with card offers. A few years ago, they might have jumped at the chance for easy money.
"They offered me a PlayStation for like no money if I got the credit card," said senior Dan Allegrone. "I didn't do it."
Above all, the students are highly skeptical of the economy adults have leased on their behalf. Several said they'd be less willing to bet their future on the casual promise that the markets would never stop rising.
"The problem with the American people," said senior Dalton Whitelaw, "is we don't know we've done anything wrong until it's done."
Tom Marshall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1431.