No matter what the talking heads on TV say, the economy isn’t getting better for many, many people. Regular people are still being slowly squeezed until they can’t manage anymore. People who used to have 750+ FICO scores who never missed payments and always expected to have a roof over their heads are seeing their coveted scores plummet, creditors hounding them day after day, and their once-secure homes taken away by lien holders. The people who were once considered “golden” are struggling to put food on the table, in spite of spotless work histories, college degrees, and years of smart decisions. This recession, as they like to call it, is really a depression of sorts. Literally and figuratively. It is subduing an entire generation of workers and rendering them impotent.
Just the other day, I read that some employers are bluntly refusing to consider unemployed job applicants. They say they need to thin out the applicant pool, and this is one way to do that. Some have attempted to rationalize their actions by theorizing that unemployed candidates must be unemployed because of some flaw. Never mind that we are at a ridiculous unemployment level, with many good workers unemployed through no fault of their own. Let’s take the job seekers who need jobs most and kick them when they are down. That’s the only civil thing to do, right?
As things slowly worsen for regular folks, they feel this squeeze. Month after month, they are forced to cut more and more, until they reach a point where there is nothing left to give up. Music lessons for the kids, pool memberships, vacations, new clothes, Cable TV, dinners out, fast food, sweets from the grocery store, taking the pets to the veterinarian, long distance, phone service... And then they have to stop paying on their credit cards, their mortgage, even their utilities. Unforgiving creditors call daily, and the electric company cuts service. For the first time in their lives, parents wonder if they will be able to keep a roof over their children’s heads. They feel like deadbeats, and the poorly-paid collections workers who harass them only reinforce that feeling. They struggle to hide their worries from their family and friends, even as they visit the doctor for antidepressants and fight with their partners about the mounting bills.
I think we should be talking about this. This scenario, with minor variations, is repeated daily in households in my community and every other community in the country. Women are hiding their worries from their friends, trying to maintain a facade of financial and emotional stability that has long since been lost. They cling to their nice clothes and fancy handbags, purchased three years ago, before the bottom fell out of their lives. They carry a worn out $200 purse, but are worried about whether their debit card will be declined at the grocery checkout.. They walk past the people clearly living in their car, wincing and hoping that things never get that bad. They hope they don’t have much farther to fall. They wait for the alleged economic recovery to reach them. They resent the people who are able to receive Public Assistance - Food Stamps, they used to call them - because those people qualify for help and can actually buy food for their kids.
These people, the ones who used to volunteer at nonprofit fundraisers, donate to their favorite charities, take their children to ballet lessons, and hit the sales at the mall - they cross their fingers and hope that the phone doesn’t ring. Because they know that the caller will just be asking for money they don’t have. Time was when they always met their obligations and didn’t have to worry so much about money. Those days are over, and may never return.
When times are tough, and these times are tough for almost everyone - we should be owning up to our suffering. We should be saying “Yes, I am struggling financially. I worry about money more than ever before. I miss my old life and am desperate for a better job.” If we would just come clean about the hard times, we could support each other and ease the burdens of the people we love. We are all in this together. Even those of us who are still holding it together, albeit with both hands, should open the door to communication so that all the people who are struggling can draw comfort from knowing that they are not alone. Let’s be honest people. If you are among the ranks of the newly-minted poor, own it. Giving voice to your troubles is empowering, and it helps to put a face on the economic crisis that is dragging our country down.