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The story begins in suburban middle-America. Ray, an unemployed assembly-line worker, is resigned to never finding a job. Fran, his wife, a waitress at a local diner, strives for better days. Katie, their daughter, is working as a canvasser and barista trying to pay off student debt (Signs of the Great Recession).

When the bills come due (Credit Hell), Fran decides that they must pay the mortgage, but Ray insists the cable bill takes priority. With the “help” of a radio talk-show host (A Man’s Gotta Do), Ray attempts to pay the cable bill, but discovers there’s no money. Ray collapses after a panic attack and reminisces about The Assembly Line. Soon he is soothed to sleep by the talk show host’s suggestion of cashing out on his retirement to solve all his money problems.

Downtown, Katie is canvassing to make
A Better, Brighter World, while her boyfriend, Leif, escapes in the world of computer games. When Katie returns home, Ray logs onto his computer and cashes out his retirement (The Portfolio) and goes on an online shopping spree (Cash Is King). When Fran discovers what Ray has done, she reprimands him and insists he return everything.

At Fran’s work, Fran encounters her whacked-out extremist mother, “Mother Fran,” who threatens to take on Ray’s issues as her own. Fran asks her mother not to intervene, so Mother Fran consuls her (
What’s a Girl
to Do?
). Meanwhile, Fran discovers a flier about foreclosures, and Fran Considers that forgoing the mortgage and remaining in their home may be the chance to regain financial footing.

Ray returns his goods for pennies on the dollar (A Cold Wind a-Blowin’). Katie and Leif prepare for a protest, but when
Leif discovers Katie’s stash of commercial junk food, he leaves her. Ray stumbles home while voices of failed endeavors rise as Fran announces the foreclosure solution. Ray once again collapses. Fran and Ensemble try to comfort Ray (Take One Step).

Act Two begins with the
Great Recession Reprise. The foreclosure process has begun, but Ray remains immobile and unemployed. Fran consults with a number of professionals to no success. Tired of it all, Ray desires to break up with Fran. But Fran hangs on, saying that life is better together (Ray of Sunshine). Inspired by her confidence, Ray meets with a Life Coach who can help. Fran is uplifted by this (Ray of Sunshine Reprise).

Having broken up with Leif, Katie is now dating grunge-hipster Thomas. Thomas and Katie are hanging out at the local community park. She shares a poem about her path of uncertainty (
How a Child Grows). Thomas declares his desire of wanting a subservient girlfriend (Girl, When We Met). Katie finds no humor in this, and Thomas leaves. Disappointed, Katie returns home. As she comes in, Fran helps Katie regain her footing and announces that Ray landed a job. At Ray’s new worksite, he and his co-workers are challenged by their overbearing supervisor to assemble boxes. Ray rises to the occasion and assembles boxes faster than his
co-workers (
A Helluva Job). 

At Katie’s second job, Leif’s mother, Mrs. Johnson, makes a grand entrance. Katie confesses her unhappiness about Leif calling her out on her issues. Mrs. Johnson counsels Katie (
Rise up and Sing), then offers her a corporate job. Leif warns that his mother’s company represents all that Katie is fighting. But Katie is determined to decide on her own terms. Leif professes his love for Katie, and their relationship is restored (A Better, Brighter World Reprise).

Ray is at home preparing for their move into a rental. Mother Fran arrives and declares that the care of an insurance scheme, if Ray takes his own life, would benefit all. But Ray refuses, grateful to be employed, and professes his love for his family. Vehement, Mother Fran leaves as Fran returns and collapses in Ray’s arms. Fran wonders if they are trading one set of problems for another. Ray sets her upon a set of boxes, offers her a cubic zirconia ring, and states that they must learn to
Take One Step together.