Szrom's own career was derailed by the downturn. First, he lost his job as a chief operations officer for a developer after the housing bubble burst. He became a painting contractor, but when that business dried up, he was searching for work again.
Szrom blames himself for trying to cash in on a housing boom that was roaring along at unsustainable pace. "I convinced myself (it would continue) and I paid my own personal price," he says. "My issue is all those making the big bucks in finance and Wall Street did not have to pay the price. They didn't lose their jobs."
There is a happy ending, though: Szrom found work as a high school chemistry teacher — a job he loves.
Just minutes away, Marisol Walker is hoping for her own comeback.
She's fighting to keep the home in Ocoee, outside Orlando, that she and her husband bought about a year before his business collapsed. He'd serviced fire extinguishers to merchants and restaurants, until many had their own money troubles. Walker says they haven't been able to pay the mortgage in 1½ years.
"I'm not ready to throw in the towel," she says. "I get real stubborn. ... I say this isn't going to beat me."
Walker works part-time, while her husband is trying to restart his business. They've sold their wedding bands and furniture for extra cash and receive $241 a month in food stamps. At first, Walker says she thought the aid would be embarrassing, but then concluded, "I don't feel like I've really done anything wrong."
Walker finds the current political debate alienating.
"I listen to politicians talking and it makes me angry," she says. "I want them to explain to me how two hard-working, willing workers are struggling and have lost everything. ... I don't think it matters who's running the government. I don't think who's president really affects my life. I just don't see how any of them are helping any of us living in the real world."
Four years ago, Barack Obama's message of hope propelled him to the White House. Now he and Romney face the daunting challenge of selling economic remedies to voters wary of election-year promises.
Both candidates have been frequent visitors to Florida and constant TV presences, pouring in tens of millions of dollars into commercials in this incredibly diverse state.
Florida has several sprawling cities as well as vast rural areas. It reflects Southern heritage in the north, while transplanted Northeasterners and Midwesterners flock to the south. There are retirees, immigrants from Latin America, Haiti and beyond, a large Jewish population and a lot of veterans.
"It's like a jigsaw puzzle," says Susan MacManus, a political scientist at the University of South Florida. "Take any group out of the equation and you can't complete the picture that yields the presidency."
That demography makes for tight races, most famously former President George W. Bush's eyelash-thin margin in 2000, culminating in a Supreme Court showdown. Obama edged McCain by almost 3 points in 2008.
One economic issue already surfacing here is the plan by Paul Ryan, Romney's vice presidential pick, to revamp Medicare with a voucher-like system that some independent budget analysts say would likely mean higher costs for seniors.
Obama's campaign recently released an online video featuring worried Florida seniors; Romney's campaign countered by saying the president cut $700 billion in Medicare to pay for his health care program.
But the plans Ryan produced in Congress in the last two years retain those cuts and call for repealing Obama's program. Romney's staff says he wants to restore the $700 billion.
Obama's health care plan actually improves some Medicare benefits. It's begun closing the coverage gap in the prescription drug program, known as the doughnut hole.
At times, Republicans have offered mixed messages about Florida's economy. While Romney has criticized the state's unemployment rate — 8.8 percent in July — and foreclosures, Gov. Rick Scott has boasted of a turnaround.