By Karen Nye
Business reporter, BBC News, New York
Unemployment benefits are available, but only for a while.
Americans value self-sufficiency and are generally suspicious of what they call "big government".
But the worst recession in 50 years has knocked many back on their heels.
Hard-working people who have lost their jobs are finding themselves embarrassed, but thankful for what government aid is available.
Michelle Jordan, 40, who lives in Yonkers, New York, was laid off in July.
Her unemployment cheques cover about half of her regular bills, but not her mortgage.
If relatives had not helped her make the house payments, she says the bank might have foreclosed on her property.
Ms Jordan does not need her degree in economics to tell her how bad the economy is.
She has worked for years in marketing and customer service, but with three children to support, she is willing to consider all sorts of jobs, even part-time work.
"I am hoping I will find another job, before all these benefits go down the drain."
The mother of three's six-month-old baby may be glad to have her at home, but her six-year-old daughter repeatedly asks, "Mommy, why did they fire you? Why did they let you go?"
She says her 17-year-old son understands and helps out.
Like many people caught in the downdraft of the financial crisis, Ms Jordan has found herself doing things she never thought she would: such as applying for help with her grocery bills, through a federal programme referred to as food stamps.
"You go to the grocery store and two bags, all of a sudden it's $40, and you think, 'where did all that money go?' So I had to reach out for something."
In Manhattan, Jose LaPorte, 54, used to sell cars, but he has been unemployed for more than a year.
He moved back home with his mother, where he lives now.
"I'm her oldest son out of six, but she said she's not going to leave me in the streets. I'm willing to do anything," he says, "but right now, there's nothing."
Mr LaPorte says it is the economy and he understands that, but his jobless benefits will run out soon.
He was relieved to learn that he has been approved for a grant to study computers for 12 months, starting in mid-October.
The re-training programme is funded by a national economic stimulus plan, and includes a part-time job at the college, plus a four-month, paid internship at the end of the course.
Mr LaPorte will also earn his high-school equivalency diploma, at the same time.
The father of three says his "13 grandchildren won't let me fail". He hopes that learning about computers will give him a "guaranteed job for life" in New York, or anywhere.
In suburban New Jersey, Dan D'Ambly, 52, is considering re-training, after working for more than 20 years as a professional printer with a major newspaper, the New Jersey Star Ledger.
But having been replaced by technology once, he is worried that could happen again.
The state of New Jersey pays higher unemployment benefits than New York, because it takes into account inflation.
Even so, Mr D'Ambly has been dipping into savings to pay for basics like groceries, and petrol for his 10-year-old car.
He grows tomatoes, aubergines, grapes and herbs on his patio, to keep busy and to put on the table.
Mr D'Ambly is luckier than some, because his union, the Amalgamated Lithographers, paid his health insurance premiums for the first six months after he was laid off.
That has expired now, so he takes vitamins and works out, to stay healthy; he wants to avoid the cost of seeing a doctor.
With only six weeks of unemployment benefits left, Dan is facing the prospect of taking a low-skilled job, without health benefits.
"I'll probably have to take two jobs, to make ends meet, just to pay the bills," he says.
"There's very little going on, even services, even retail, there very little hiring going on."
Economist Bob Brusca is from Michigan, a state hard hit by the auto industry's troubles, the credit crisis, and consumers' sudden thriftiness because they are worried about their jobs.
He notes that seven million people have lost their jobs in this recession, the worst in the post-war period.
Unemployment benefits usually run out after six months in America, but Washington has helped pay for benefits to continue, this time.
Mr Brusca predicts that Congress will soon approve another 13-week extension of aid, because otherwise, "it becomes a political problem".
Mr Brusca's long experience, and economic models, tell him that replacing those seven million jobs could take a long time, but he is optimistic that economic recovery will start to take shape.