Wednesday, December 10, 2008

How the Economic Crisis Affects Two Families

To say that I was pissed when I saw, over at Shakesville, that Karl Rove and Bill O'Reilly posited that much of the economic crisis is negative spin, the product of a liberal media conspiracy, would be a gross understatement. I called mrs. o and asked her to help me tell the story of how the "imaginary" crisis is taking a not-so-imaginary toll on our families.

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].

It represents a significant operating loss for a school district, which is already financially strapped.
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.

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.


bfp said...

mmhm. i've never realized how freaking important class as an identity was to me until I started seeing people (including feminists!) start in with the "let detroit die" bullshit. I swear I've had my fighting gloves on my in the past few weeks because of how casual some people are about letting the working class people of the u.s. 'die' because the news of their demise is 'spin' or because 'they should've known better' or because 'they should've gotten a real job' or because 'who do they think they are getting life time benefits for turning screws 8 hours a day?'--fuck them all. I can't even express to you how angry this makes me.

RageyOne said...

wow. when it rains it pours. the economic strife is affecting folks from all ends of the spectrum, and unfortunately, those on the lower end are hit the hardest.

it seems that no matter what one *tries* to do they are pulled down in some form or fashion.

praying for my neighbors in the northern part of the state.

animeg said...

This is random, but I don't get the folks who are like OMG, THEY GET 20$ AN HOUR FOR BEING AUTOWORKERS. And? Then they got a good job then. I don't get why people don't like that. Folks good with their hands, feed their family. Very American.

Linnaeus said...

I'm with all of you here.

I grew up in a working-class family in a certain mitten-shaped state that's having a hard time of it now, and it's absolutely infuriating me too to hear otherwise progressive people let their anger at CEOs (however justified) lead them to argue that an entire regional economy should just go to shit.

Hoover's ghost still walks the earth.

My family was one of those, as shannon says, "omg they make $20 an hour" so we were never destitute, but certainly not rich. That kind of work made a big difference for me. I know it would have been much harder for me to go to college without those opportunities afforded me by a decent wage. It's funny to hear what people say now that they think I'm "one of them" because I'm in grad school.

So bfp has the right of it: fuck 'em.

Revelations and ruminations from one southern sistorian...