IF CURRENT phrases like “stimulus package” and “recessionista,” are any indication, the past 12 months will be known as the recession of the 2000s. It's no surprise that the economic downturn is hard on many people. I read that more and more people won’t claim their dead relatives’ bodies because they can’t afford the fees. I hear a lot of recession stories from friends and family, stories of layoffs, salary cutbacks, and tighter budgets.
For more than a few friends, the solution was to move to a state with a better job market or to move in with parents until a better job can be found. My little family of three falls into the latter category. I never thought I’d live with my in-laws. My husband Daniel is a hard-working man, but two layoffs and a bad job market make it very difficult to pay the bills.
For us, the recession of the 2000s began late last October when Daniel called me to say he was let go. It was horrible timing: our son, born with cleft lip and palate, needed his first surgical repair any day. Daniel didn’t find another job for eight weeks. In April, it happened again right before Nate’s second surgery. Despite many applications and short projects, he’s still looking for a full-time job.
Recent news suggests that the recession is over, but it still bears full force in my household. Three months after being laid off and no full-time job possibilities, we gave notice on our apartment, stored our furniture, and moved in with Daniel's parents in rural New York. For us, the lessons have been few, but important.
Most importantly, everything is different with a family. It’s a cliche every parent tells an expectant couple: “Your life will change with that baby.” It’s true, but especially so during a recession. When Daniel lost his job, my first thought wasn’t about where we would live or how we would pay the bills. I thought of Nate: how would we afford insurance and desperately needed surgery? Suddenly, stability and forty hours a week win over sudden moves and career development.
Nicholas Joch observed how much the Chinese could teach us about thrift. Alisa Harris explained why high fashion is important even during a recession. Mark T. Mitchell decried the recession-fueled centralization of government and economic power, and Marvin Olasky warned that hard economic times make bad policies attractive.
I finally understand why people always rail against the health care system. Maybe I should blame my conservative upbringing, but my first reaction to health care reform was “If you're responsible and a hard worker, how hard can insurance be?” I’m an idiot. It can be very hard, especially if you are self employed. Suddenly, your child who has a non-life-threatening condition can only get the most expensive health insurance, and it still doesn't cover anything worthwhile. I voted Republican in November, but I thanked God when the stimulus package allowed Nate to get cost-prohibitive surgery. It wasn't how we pictured the problem working out, but it was a provision I am grateful exists.
Saving in good times is crucial, but even that won’t save you. No matter how much you save or what emergency fund you put aside, circumstances can devastate your personal economy. In our case, a poor job market, medical needs, and months without a paycheck really hurt. I wish we had more in savings, but looking back, it would not have helped us in any dramatic way.
As difficult as the financial realities have been, I will always be astounded at people’s generosity. A family friend, also unemployed, sent us a check to help with bills. I did not have to pay for baby food for a whole month. We’ve been given new clothes, gas money, and food. Almost every week, a large check is in the mail from a caring friend. It encourages us to hold what little we have loosely and think of others in our situation.
Every generation has its recession. My parents weathered theirs and now, my husband and I are in the midst of ours. Honestly, it stinks. It stinks that we left our friends and our home. It stinks that jobs aren’t available.
Eventually, this will be a quickly-skimmed over memory. I'm looking forward to that. For now though, we have a lot to recover, and I don't think we're the only ones. While we wait for “eventually,” we’ll continue to share a bathroom with my in-laws and commute to the nearest Wal-Mart. But mostly, we'll be grateful for family and someplace to go.
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