By Teresa Cavaliere
West Palm Beach, FL, USA
(credit: Joseph J. Bucheck III)
When you look at the data, there is a sharp drop in the size of America’s middle class. Between the year 2007 and 2010, American families lost over 40% of their net worth. And I'm right in the heart of it.
If some things don’t change, America will have the largest middle class poverty problem in its history. Descent into poverty is very emotional. The humiliation takes your breath away. I want to make it on my own again and not have to ask for help. Some days, I don’t feel like I will ever get out of this trap. The sadness and humiliation of having to finally ask for help is devastating.
When is my life going to feel normal again? I never imagined that so many of my acquaintances would ever be categorized as “Suburbia Poor,” but they are. We are all sensible people who were leading sensible lives. Not living extravagantly, but just comfortable with enough saved for emergencies; never thinking this recession would last this long. My two years of savings went so quickly. We lost it all! It was the loss of jobs due to the economy and, in my case, a partner who just gave up and jumped ship.
After three years of trying to keep it all together, my partner of twenty-five years walked away from everything at the worst possible time, one year ago this month. Now, I am into my fourth year of Suburbia Poor. To buy groceries has become a struggle. I have withdrawn from my life of having friends over or going out with friends as I once did. Every now and then my dearest friends coax me out just to get some air and to remind me of what I’m missing. Some days it gives me strength and other days it makes me feel like such a failure.
I'm trying to stay above water, but I am soon to be homeless. Can I just have a break! The stigma of applying for public assistance is indescribable. I always helped others and now I need the help. Never in my life did I ever collect unemployment let alone food stamps. It's for my family’s survival. That's how I justified having to swallow my pride and do what is necessary.
Facing the reality of not having medical insurance, as I once did, leaves me feeling very vulnerable, especially for my children. I'm about to turn fifty-four. This is not where I imagined I would be. It’s hard to sleep most nights. My friends have all relocated, having lost their homes, and I’m hanging on by a thread.
The irony, of course, is that many of my friends are paying rent for a home that if the bank had worked with the owners, they could have stayed where they were and continued to pay the mortgage. Instead each day we all pass rows of empty, foreclosed homes that shout of displaced families and traumatized lives. What is happening to my beautiful America?
I am determined to be self-sufficient as I once was, not only for myself, but for my children as well. One day my children will look back and know that when times are at their worst, they have to preserver. I may be feeling poor, but focusing on all the riches I have in my life that I can't balance in a checkbook is priceless.
I REFUSE TO STAY IN SUBURBIA POOR!