It’s About Money

It is 2015. I’m 35 years old. I have a college education. I don’t have children. I don’t have student loan debt. I am employed. I have a partner who is employed and we share in the household income. We rent an apartment. We have one car. We do not go out a lot. We do not have credit card payments. With the exception of shoes, a few items of clothing, a few gifts for friends and family, and food, we have not bought anything new in over two years. We struggle with money every single day.

My entire generation is struggling with money. All of us struggle with money. We are struggling in significant and incredible ways. If my generation is being honest, we will probably struggle with money for the rest of our lives. And, if I’m being honest, everyone I know is struggling with money, regardless of generation.

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In 2005, back when I was married to a different person, I bought a house with my husband. We were both college graduates from parents of college graduates. We both earned reasonable and steady incomes. Our mortgage payment was about 30% of our income. It was something that we could reasonably afford. We did what every other person our age had done at the time. We got a mortgage that was an 80-20 split. 80% of our mortgage was a part of one loan with one set of terms and 20% of our mortgage qualified as our down payment and came with a completely different set of terms, something shady and delectable to the financial industry. By 2007, our mortgage payments ballooned to over 60% of our income, partly because the payments went up, and partly because our income went down. By 2008, our home had been foreclosed on. It was quick and dirty. For reasons mostly unrelated, my husband and I divorced the same year.

By 2010, I was renting an apartment and beginning a new relationship with the person I now know is the person that I will spend my life with. When we met, I was working at the same job that I worked at in 2005, when I had bought my house. By 2010, my income hadn’t changed much from the day I had started with the agency. It had gone up in 2008 but then there were lay-offs and cut backs and my income had fallen back down to its 2005 level. It was still reasonable but healthcare costs had gone up significantly, along with insurance costs, and food costs, and utilities. I was struggling to make ends meet when they told us that our agency would be cut by about 50% and that there would be significant layoffs.

My partner and I decided to move closer to her work. The commute was significant and gas prices were still at record-breaking levels. I would take the layoff and receive unemployment benefits while I looked for a job in our new location. We moved 50 miles to the north and tried to make a new life.

My unemployment benefits ran out in 2012, a full two years before I found a job.

 

There were two years between my unemployment benefits running out and finding a job and those two years were the worst two years of my life.

It’s hard to admit defeat.

It’s hard for middle class people to address poverty because we think that we are too good for poverty. I thought that I was too good for poverty.

My partner and I lived below the poverty level for two years and we pretended to everyone that all was well. We never let on. We didn’t tell our friends and family. We didn’t tell anyone that we had to go to the food bank to pick up food. We didn’t tell anyone that I had to work for our landlord in order make rent. We didn’t tell anyone that the garden in our back yard was actually a significant food source. We didn’t use our heater for an entire winter because we couldn’t afford the bill for propane. These just aren’t the things you want to share.

We are better off these days. But not by much. We pay our bills most of the time. Sometimes we can even put a few dollars into savings.

 

A friend of mine went into her bank today. She is 40-something and one of the most interesting and brilliant people I know. She is a writer and someone I constantly admire. She is paid to write articles that I wish I could write. When I think about my life in five years, I think of her.

She has been struggling with money. Today, she told her friends, “The teller at the bank could tell that I am a lady who lives by my wits and she was not amused.” A friend asked, “Did you cross the funny/outgoing–rude/crazy line?” My friend replied, “No. I was just being poor in public.”

 

My car died today. It’s a good car but it is ten years old and has been acting up. Today, after finishing a cup of tea and getting ready for work, I went to start my car. The engine wouldn’t turn over. The engine made a rraerrr-irrrr sound and then nothing. I tried to have my neighbor jump start my car but it didn’t help. Ultimately, I had to have the car towed from my driveway to the mechanic.

I don’t have the money to fix the car. Well, more accurately, I have the money to fix the car but it was money that my partner and I had been saving to go on a long-awaited camping trip this weekend, a trip that we booked in May and is likely no longer a possibility. I also don’t have money for a new car. I don’t have money saved for a down payment and my partner and I do not have the credit scores to buy a car and make payments at a reasonable rate. The car is our single, shared family vehicle.

My partner and I have been squirrelling away money these past few months because the non-profit organization that I work for is about to lose a significant grant that helps to fund the organization. I know that my salary will have to be cut in order to maintain the financial health of the organization. I love non-profit work and I know the drill. I have been trying to prepare in the interim.

My partner and I have been trying to save at least three months of expenses so that we can have time to prepare for the next step. We know what it’s like to have no money and it sucks. We are hoping to avoid that.

 

I am sick and tired of being poor. Everyone I know is sick and tired of being poor.

According to articles published by The Atlantic and Business Insider, “Millions of America’s young people are really struggling financially. Around 30 percent are living with their parents, and many others are coping with stagnant wages, underemployment, and sky-high rent.” This article addresses the struggles that people of my generation face but it fails to make note of how many financial sacrifices the parents of my generation have had to make in order to accommodate the failed promises of American Society that their children were afforded. Our economic instability is not simply affecting our recent college graduates. Our failed economic structure is equally effecting the parents and grandparents who are trying to help generations X, Y, and beyond.

 

According to every American myth I know, according to the dogma laid out by the American dream, me, and people like me, should be financially well-off. I went to college before getting married. I got married before buying a house. I bought a house before considering children. I did all the right things.

But all of that dissolved in the financial crisis of 2008, a financial crisis that was orchestrated and intentional with no apologies and no criminal indictments from America’s financial or legal community. I didn’t have children and I lost the house. I lost the house and I lost the marriage. My college degree can’t get me a job.

Isn’t it time to just say it? Can’t we just say it? Shouldn’t we just be honest with each other?

I’ll say it.

The American Dream is dead. The American Middle Class is nothing but a fallacy. We no longer have an American Middle Class.

 

The American Dream is dead but not in the way that people who engage in politics would like to use the phrase. It’s not about State’s Rights, or Gun Rights, or Libertarianism. It’s not about taxes or representation. The American Dream is dead because the American middle class no longer exists.

The American middle class can’t make their mortgage payments. The American middle class can’t put their kids through college without borrowing large sums of money from financial institutions. The American middle class cannot provide for their families without going through the door of American finance. The American middle class has been captured by the finance industry and it is suffering in unprecedented ways.

The entire world is suffering from American finance.

At least the people in countries like Greece and Iceland know what happened to them. They know that they have been screwed. They know that they were completely and totally fucked by the worldwide financial industry. The people of United States of America still have no idea.

The people of America are suffering. I am suffering. It’s about money. It’s money. The people of America are suffering because there is an incredible difference between the people that have money and the people who are struggling to make ends meet.

I have credentials. I should be able to get a job that pays well. I should be able to own a home. I should have reasonable health insurance costs.

I have a degree from UC Davis.

I have no money. I have a car that needs repair. I have a job that can’t pay me. I’m the American Middle class.

It’s about money.