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The other day, while watching the evening news (something I try to avoid these days), I saw a sobering statistic – that unemployment in California is now in double digits. I instantly burst into tears.
I have a job I hate. And thanks to the sucky economy, I can’t quit.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m grateful for my paycheck. Two of my good friends, who used to be my managers and mentors when I worked for an enterprise-software company, were both let go within weeks of each other. They have mortgages and kids and spouses and tuition to worry about. I only have myself.
But that doesn’t change the fact that I can’t sleep at night or that my stomach is continually upset.
I really, really, really want to quit. And I can’t. Unless I’m willing to cash out my (quickly shrinking) 401(k) and hope I find a job before it runs out. Or unless I’m willing to put everything I own in storage and just live in my car until I find a new job. I’ve been sufficiently aggrieved to seriously consider both options.
My personal recession actually started 4 1/2 years ago, when the company I worked for was acquired, and I took the severance package. This big chunk of change represented a second chance to pursue the dream that originally brought me to Hollywood in the first place. You see, I’ve always dreamed of being an actor. And most actors live in a constant state of recession while they go on pointless audition after pointless audition, hoping for that one big break. Meanwhile, the endless, exhausting stream of going-nowhere activity makes it all but impossible to hold a steady, well-paying job. It’s literally Hollywood or bust.
After my severance pay and unemployment ran out, I started working as a contract freelance writer, making half of my corporate salary and paying twice as much in taxes. I compensated with credit cards. I charged my rent. I charged my food. I charged my acting classes. By the time I finally accepted that Spielberg wasn’t calling, I was $69,000 in debt. It was time to go back to work, and I took the first job smoking: a position as a marketing communications manager with one of the companies I freelanced for.
It was a nightmare from the start. Nearly the entire management team turned over, and the people who brought me in quickly left. The new regime pigeon-holed me into a role so limited, I felt like a bottom-of-the-org-chart peon.
No problem. I’d just keep looking. And in a few months, I’d be on to something more challenging and fulfilling.
I didn’t count on the global recession. It came early to Los Angeles, thanks to the Writers’ Strike. In October 2007, there were lots of jobs to apply to. In November, when TV production halted overnight, jobs were instantly hard to come by, even in fields unrelated to the entertainment industry. The housing bust, which brought down Southern California-based companies like Countrywide, simply made a bad situation worse.
Eighteen months after I started the sucky job from hell, I’ve only had three interviews and no job offers.
Am I discouraged? You bet I am.
Anita is a take-charge marketer with 10 years’ experience in the technology sector. She lives in Los Angeles and holds a B.A. from Yale University. Check out her resume and portfolio.
There is a Duane Reade (New York’s Walgreens or CVS equivalent) that we normally go to, not too far from my house. There used to be a small, high-end grocery and delicatessen right next door. It seemed, from the time it opened, that it had a pretty large following, so its closing about a year and a half ago was a bit unexpected. In that area, there tends to be a high turnover of stores and small restaurants, so I figured something new would take its place soon enough. Today, the space still has not been filled. I think that’s probably when I first started to get scared.
I think I’ve railed against Long Island a lot, when it comes to their feeling of invincibility owing to the region’s staggering wealth (with some exceptions). Three years ago, I rode on the LIRR through the whole summer, and the conversations among other passengers were mostly monotonous, vapid, or sometimes (on those rare occasions) riotously funny. Now, some of that conversation has turned somber, speculative, and almost scared (don’t get me wrong, there are still those who manage to carry on the vapid and stupid conversations in spite of anything else). I’m seeing large sales and discounts popping up to lure uncertain buyers. New York/Long Island mainstays (like Fortunoff and Steve and Barry’s) have filed for bankruptcy, and both are (or have completed) the process of liquidation. At the supermarket, the number of people using coupons seems to have increased exponentially. Even big-wig restaurant owners and chefs in the city (Mario Batali et. al.) have started to introduce special discounts at their restaurants that were normally only accessible to a select few with deep pockets (though I think the discounts were only through Restaurant Week, I don’t know about now).
On the other end of the spectrum, though, things like train fares (both commuter and subway) have been poised to increase over the next few months (I believe June is when the MTA is hiking up subway fares), making a more environmentally-sound (and sometimes, cost-effective) form of transportation more expensive. Schools are (still) hiking tuition costs at a rate that’s outpacing inflation (hooray for debt!), though some are increasing their financial aid packages in light of the fact that people are less likely to be able to pay for further education now than perhaps a few years ago.
So essentially I’m stuck in a slightly confused world where some are lowering costs, and others are increasing costs, and I’m struggling to keep whatever little money I have on my person. I try to cut down the amount of coffee I consume outside (such a hard habit to break) the number of times I eat out (another hard habit to break), and the number of times I have to go into the city, trying to plan my trips around off-peak hours for the sake of my wallet (though sometimes traveling at peak hours is unavoidable).
I was riding into the city on one of the Babylon LIRR trains and was listening to a conversation the two men sitting in front of me were having. They were speaking in hushed tones about how, given the state of affairs, crime was very likely to rise in the area. It was a rehashing of a similar conversation I had with my father. As much as I’d like to think that they are being incredibly paranoid, they’re all probably right.
Whenever I leave Penn Station, I walk out and make my way to Herald Square so I can catch the R or W to NYU. For the last couple of weeks, I’ve noticed that there is always one wheelchair-bound hobo at the corner of 34th and 7th uttering the same thing, over and over again. “Guys, can ya please help me get som’in ta’ eat?” Hobos are as part of the city as the Empire State Building and Times Square, but generally I never saw many, at least on the route I normally take through the city. Now–perhaps because there are more or because I’m taking greater notice of them–I have seen an increase in the number of hobos and street performers. At that corner just outside of Penn Station, I have seen on some days, two other wheelchair-bound hobos patrolling that intersection, hoping someone will give them something. The West 4th Station has seen an increase in performers who, sometimes, go to great lengths to attract attention (a full jazz band and a guy playing on a regular piano, for starters). The worst I have seen (at least to me) in recent weeks are the rise of teenage (or perhaps younger) street performers. On the F, I have seen on at least two occasions, a group of kids who breakdance on the moving train for money. I can’t deny that it’s entertaining, but I mean, they’re kids! I don’t know if this was their own choice, or their parents or friends put them up to this, but God forbid one of them fell and broke their neck…
Yet getting back to crime, in desperate times, desperate people will make desperate moves. More people are being driven into poverty, some ending up on the streets. It’s almost understandable that crime would be the next step. I don’t know if I can ever entirely trust the media coverage of local crimes, since it seems like crime activity in an area is always inflated for sensationalist value, but I guess it’s better to be safe than sorry. Usually, when I’m walking to and from the subway, I try to walk with someone. It’s not a terribly long walk, so I don’t mind walking alone sometimes, and usually the streets are very well-lit and well-trafficked. However, I have considered buying pepper spray, just in case I do end up staying later (for class, studying, or just in general), when the streets become less crowded. I’m not exactly a formidable figure, at 5’1″.
So at least here in the Long Island/NYC area, the recession has been moving in like a fog through empty streets, slowly and steadily. I suppose there’s no way to predict where this will take us, absolutely, but I hope that this will only be a temporary situation and that an upturn will start within the next few months. I can only hope.
I have no health insurance. I have to worry about getting a cold, getting a flu, getting food poisoning, or some other unfortunate ill. Heaven forbid I do, I have no way to go and see a doctor for any sort of treatment. In the back of my head, I worry every time I step out off the curb into the crosswalk, worry that some crazed taxi driver will gun his engine and inadvertently take me out. In that case, I hope I go quickly and painlessly, and not have to end up in a hospital and drive my family into bankruptcy. That is my prayer, in the supposed land of freedom and opportunity.
I, along with many of my peers, went to college and are pursuing further grad work. I, along with many of my peers, are in debt up to our eyeballs. Cornell Arts and Sciences costs something in the order of $40K, though I was in Cornell’s College of Human Ecology, a measly $20K as a New York State resident. Meanwhile, I just Googled the tuition cost to attend the University of Cambridge in England and here is what it said:
“In 2009, the University of Cambridge will charge tuition fees of £3,145 (plus a small inflationary rise to be determined by the DIUS) per year for all courses, as outlined in our Access Agreement, which has been approved by the Office for Fair Access (OFFA).” (http://www.cam.ac.uk/admissions/undergraduate/finance/tuition.html). That’s $4654. Per year. At one of the world’s premier universities. In order to succeed in the land of freedom and opportunity [the United States] you must be willing to fork over an arm and a leg, in addition to your firstborn. This is the mantra that the country continues to chant.
So getting back to my story. I have no health insurance, and I’m signing loan after loan to pay my way through school. Theoretically, I have only another…5 more years of school to go before I get a steady paycheck. After that, maybe another thirty years before I pay off my loans. Even if I didn’t take my double-masters detour from medical school, I would still be paying off loans well into my child’s teen years.
I have tried to find a job, but finding a job in itself is a hassle. I finally got one, after 6 to 7 months of searching (not including the tutoring position I currently have). Other friends, though, are still in the job-hunting game, with little to no success. Most, if not all, are from top-tier universities around the country. Even if they’re not, they are certainly smart and capable, yet they are all being denied. Welcome to the United States, the land of freedom and opportunity.
Why have we failed our own people?
Part of the problem is we are still operating in an exclusively capitalistic mindset. Privatize this and that so that the brunt of the cost falls on the individual and the group is spared. Leave it to market forces, because the market will cure all. We have no concern for the group, just the individual, whose health and future is put in the hands of the market. This is the equivalent of leaving them in the hands of a temperamental child, easily swayed, and never entirely stable. Inflation is only driving costs up. While, in the case of healthcare, Medicaid and Medicare do exist and for education, there is state and federal financial aid, they are imperfect solutions.
Medicaid remains a often-abused and neglected system. Millions, if not billions of dollars, are being spent because clinicians are billing the system fraudulently, exploiting loopholes in the system that have yet to be resolved. If they aren’t inappropriately billing the system, they are less likely to treat patients on Medicaid, and those hospitals and clinics that do accept Medicaid are notorious for being sub-par in comparison to their private counterparts. While Medicaid targets those who are often well-below the poverty line, and private insurance takes care of people in the upper brackets, there is still a whole set of people who are neither poor but are neither capable of shelling out money for private insurance that are left without health insurance. There are no resources for these people.
“Give me your poor, your tired, your huddled masses…” unless they’re above this income bracket and below another. In that case, you’re on your own.
Yet even if you can pay for private health insurance, you are probably out of luck if you were to end up with a major medical condition. While routine checkups and most lab tests are covered by most health insurance plans, the more complex procedures are oftentimes not covered. So regardless of your status, in terms of health insurance coverage, there are problems just waiting to happen from which no one can effectively bail you out. Russian Roulette, if you will.
Welcome to the United State, the land of freedom and opportunity.
If someone wants to have enough money, not just to pay off health insurance, but to have a decent quality of life, they need an education. Education, especially in recent years, has become prohibitively expensive. People who would otherwise be capable of getting into an Ivy League are stopped short by the costs, and have to go somewhere else (which may not necessarily be a bad thing, refer to my earlier post). Inflation is driving up university costs at astronomical rates, and greater pressures are being put on colleges to construct new buildings and upgrade what they already have, adding to the cost. Why do we have to be restricted from attending some of the nation’s finest universities by something like cost? We have become a society of debtors, in part due to this phenomenon. Don’t even get me started on the fact that, despite the fact that we pay through our (insert orefice of choice here) for a halfway decent education, we lag behind most of the world, especially in science and mathematics. That’s for another post.
The irony is that I want to be a doctor with a few grad degrees aside from my MD, and currently I neither have health insurance nor a sound way of even paying for one grad degree, let alone medical school.
Welcome to the United States, land of freedom and opportunity.
Dear President-elect Obama: Do you hear the the death moans of a nation once at the pinnacle of greatness, now reduced to a society of forgotten people, languishing in their own physical and financial sickness? You spoke of healthcare for everyone, where even the poorest person can have the same healthcare as a United States Senator. Coming from a distinguished background, you know the pain students go through to get a decent education, just to enjoy some of the benefits that you have. I will bite my tongue and pay my loans off as best as I can, dutifully carry around my bottle of Purrell in an effort to stave off illnesses for the time being, and look both ways before I cross the street (in a very anti-New Yorker fashion) but at some point this needs to stop. I need to stop worrying about how I’m going to pay for my education and I need to stop worrying about whether my next step could land me in a hospital. More importantly, though, my younger brother shouldn’t have to worry about which college he can afford to go to, or how he’ll be able to get healthcare once he’s older. My parents shelled out a lot just to see me enjoy opportunities that in some cases, they had to forgo. Now that the second one is lining up for his turn, I don’t want to see them struggle anymore.
Can you bring meaning back to the phrase “Welcome to the United States, the land of freedom and opportunity,” and not leave it sounding sarcastic and empty? Can you fix it?
It looks like most of us are pretty riled up now, but just in case the point(s) isn’t perfectly clear, here’s why we need to get the vote out.
This election REALLY matters.
Ok…they said it last time. Remember? When John Kerry ran against Dubya. That race really mattered too…needless to say, the nation collectively dropped the ball. So we embarked on another four years of neo-conservative, country-destroying policies that have borne their poisonous fruit. The economy is tanking, education is tanking, healthcare is tanking, everything…is…tanking.
How does that affect me, you may ask. Let me put it in terms to which we can probably better relate.
The dollar is losing value, so your plans to backpack across Europe after college? Not as cheap as you may think. That trip to the Caribbean will probably cost you a bit more than you’d like. Don’t even get me started on air travel. Oh and that pretty Prada bag? That’s an Italian import, expect a higher pricetag on that. Same for Armani, Gucci, etc.
Are you on par with students from other countries in the areas of math and science. Probably not. Why? Blame Dubya’s “No Child Left Behind.” While the intentions are good (increase passing rates) it also dumbs down the curriculum so far that everything is just watered down to its basics. So you say you want to go to college to further your understanding of some topic of interest? That’s fantastic. Expect the price of a decent education to take off like a rocket, and those loans you were going to take out? Yeah expect it to get harder to get a loan, and expect it to get harder to pay it off once you have your framed, shiny degree (or degrees).
Well now that you can vote, you can also probably buy your own health insurance right? Most health insurance companies make some sort of allowance for full-time students over the age of 18 to continue to stay on their parents’ plan until some age (usually 25). That’s assuming, of course, you can afford to be a full-time student. If you can’t, well then you’ll need to find a job that provides healthcare benefits. That is, of course, if you can find a job. Finding a job in this economy is about as easy as finding a needle in a haystack. Now imagine finding that needle with about a thousand other people clamoring to find it as well. Best of luck.
Don’t expect to be able to buy a home anytime soon. We are probably going to end up a society of renters…until the housing market is somehow, treated…if not cured.
Half our products are being produced abroad, where the regulations are much more lax. Hooray for melamine! Unless you like your food and merchandise with a side of profound neurotoxicity and painful kidney stones, we need to find a way to bring production back to the U.S. Otherwise, expect really high medical bills…since getting affordable health insurance will be pretty hard.
Ok, but cars are better right? Sure, I have a soft corner for imports. Yet the question is…why can’t we get the same quality in the U.S.? Ford, GMC, Chevrolet (for the most part) are still clunky and noisy even though they are cheaper. They are lacking the smooth appeal in function and appearance that their foreign cousins seem to have as a default. Let’s try to change that.
Gay rights need to come now. Let’s stop living in a world that frowns on (at the very least) basic civil liberties for gay couples, while gladly contributing to the juggernaut that is the porn industry. Seriously…does anyone else not see the irony here?
I could probably go on…and on…and on. But we, as youth, generally have the attention span of small rodents. So I’ll stop.
Please vote tomorrow. I’m not telling you to vote for any specific candidate. I’m telling you to vote for the candidate that can save our future. I’m telling you to think long and hard about each candidate’s stance, and decide which candidate brings the most promising plan to the table. We will be the ones inheriting most of the mistakes of the last administration, not our parents (though they will also be affected). We are the ones that need to assure that, at the very least, our children will not have to deal with the same dilemma.
Please…go out tomorrow (November 4th, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise) and vote. Polling centers, to my understanding, are open from 6AM-9PM. Bring your iPod, bring a book, bring something to kill the time because lines will be long but they will be worth it.
Let’s hope this election yields a better future for us, and our country.