These stories overlap, because we share some relatives and some of our family members work(ed) at the same places.
As background, some significant layoffs and shutdowns have occured in north Louisiana in the last few months. Most devastating for my home town/parish has been the economic trouble that has shaken Pilgrim's Pride, which has filed bankruptcy. Once the largest employer in Union County, AR and Union Parish, LA, Pilgim's Pride has had to scale back dramatically. For our families, that has meant:
My mother lost her job after 23 years.
My brother lost his job after 19 years.
My cousin, Tesha, a single mom of two, lost her job after eight years.
mrs. o's aunt lost her job after almost 20 years.
mrs. o's husband has faced serious cutbacks--he was off every Wednesday for a while.
My mother is more fortunate than some--my father receives social security/retirement payments and 90% disability payments from the VA. They own their house. Her utilities will be paid. She wants another job, but she has a high school education and spent most of her working life doing unskilled labor. She is 59 years old.
But for the others, the picture is even more grim. Losing their jobs means the loss of income for families who were living paycheck to paycheck. If you were already "behind" because of hard times, this can spell disaster. It takes a few weeks to get unemployment payments. And when those run out, where do unskilled, but "young"-enough-to-work people in area that already had little job opportunity go?
Losing the job also means losing health insurance. My mom worries about how she will afford medicine and regular doctor visits--she is largely healthy, but she is diabetic and has had some heart issues.
My brother has six children, four of whom still depend on him for health insurance. His ex-wife is an LPN who is struggling to make ends meet and is providing most of the financial care for their granddaughter. My oldest niece (just 21) is already working two jobs to help her mom. My brother's layoff means my ex-sister-in-law will, for a while, lose the child support benefits for her youngest two kids, worsening their situation. It also means that when he does secure another job, he will be behind on his payments.
My present sister-in-law is a self-employed hairstylist who does not have health insurance and who is facing the very real fact that salon appointments quickly shift from "necessity" to "luxury" in times like these.
mrs. o is a veteran teacher who has some job security, true. But keep in mind, she is working in one of the lowest paid parishes in the state. She and her husband are buying a home and have two young children as well as a college-age son for whom they still provide some support. Things are tight, even when her husband can get in a 40-hour week. They will lose income in at least two ways if he loses his job, because it will be much more expensive for her to insure the family through hers.
The long term outlook is not all-positive, either. mr. o has been unable to match Pilgrim's Pride deposits into his 401(k), meaning that he has been unable to save much towards retirement. That problem has been compounded by the loss of value of the 401(k) (in part, mrs. o says, because Pilgrim's Pride invested in its own stock which plunged this year). If he had retired 16 months ago, he would have received $303 a month. According to a statement he received last week, that amount has dropped to $35, after 14 years working for the company.
And, the security of mrs. o's job is not written in stone. The parish has been plagued by underperforming schools and a lack of money to run the schools. One local paper observed a few months ago:
Currently, [the school board superintendent] said the school district receives $3,855 per student, which amounts to $296,835 at [mrs. o's school]. It currently costs $600,000 to run [mrs. o's school].So there is talk of consolidation, of shutting some schools down, of reducing staff. Again, mrs. o has some security because of her master's degree and her time in the district, but little is certain.
It represents a significant operating loss for a school district, which is already financially strapped.
The school situation renders my sister's position much more tenuous. With one year of service under her belt in the parish, she is the new kid on the block, worried about being "the last hired, first fired." She and mrs. o have both begun looking at other districts, but my sister has an even greater sense of urgency.
In the months since her fiance lost his job, he has only been able to find work through temporary agencies. For now, most of the financial responsibility for their household and the kids falls on her. She has taken an afternoon job through a tutorial program. Working two jobs and mothering an eight-year-old who's struggling with school this year and a seven-month-old who is a little busybody takes its toll. My mother helps with childcare and chores that can be done out-of-the-home (e.g. washing), but my sister is still tired and worried.
There have been a number of bankruptcies filed in mrs. o's and my families this year, but widespread relief has yet to be felt.
These are our lives right now. There's nothing "spun" or "manufactured" about them.