Friday, February 13, 2009

Portrait: Georgia

Two Halloweens ago, my husband arrived home early from work. I was on bed rest with our third child (our first planned baby), and thought "oh, great! He's home early to help get the children ready for trick or treating!"

We had bought our first home just three months earlier (a house we hunted and saved for for a year and put down 20 percent on), and I was looking forward to meeting our new neighbors on this outing. Nevermind my husband had not come home early to help before without me asking for it. He was the corporate public relations guy - a suit that didn't get to leave early unless there was a justifiable reason for it.

He walked through the door, and I teased him, "Aww, honey, did you get laid off?" It was a joke I had never made before. He looked stunned, then replied, "yes."

We went back and forth, me in denial, as he tried to convince me he was indeed serious. He pulled the severance papers out of his briefcase and handed them to me. And I remembered he wasn't really that much of a jokester to begin with.

We channeled Pollyanna in the beginning - we had a little savings, a very slight severance package, and my job with the magazine. We would be fine! Besides, who wouldn't hire him with almost a decade of experience? He was a pro with a great resume.

Nearly 85 companies passed him over in the next seven months. He was over-qualified, over-educated, too experienced, or they could hire a noob out of college for mere pennies.

Finally, after our youngest was born, our savings depleted, and the severance money long gone, my husband got the call: he could start a job with the state on Monday. It was a significant pay cut - 10 percent - and he would have to commute three and a half hours total every day, but it was work! We put our beloved house on the market, and again, the Pollyanna within took over. Sell our house, buy a new one, and start life in a new state.

We became thankful he was laid off when he was. Newspapers began laying off employees by the thousands a month after he started his new job. His hunt would have been seriously complicated by this, and whew, didn't we just dodge that bullet?!

We watched the print journalism world crumble around us. Friends and colleagues are laid off every quarter, and those that remain are overworked and underpaid, and know there will be no raises this year while praying they will have a job to come to the next quarter. Our hearts bleed every month for the people we know now stuck in the limbo hell we were in last year at this time, and then we thanked God he was one of the first to go.

It has almost a year since he was hired. Our house is still on the market, and we're fairly certain our credit isn't good enough to meet the new stringent credit requirements for a new loan even if we could sell it.

I lost my job with the magazine after hours (and ad sales) dwindled to nothing, and we get an hour a day with Daddy before it's time for bed. I spend 12 hours home alone with our three children. There's still no money in our account because we can't get ahead when his salary alone won't pay the bills, and I have not had any luck in my job hunt.

We have three college degrees and seventeen years experience between us with great records and references, yet no company in a three-state radius is in need of someone with our skill sets.

Even if places like Lowes and Target were hiring, they don't pay enough to cover the day care our three children would incur.

We have always lived simply - we have no credit card debt, one car payment, and our bills total less than $2,200 a month. We didn't top $60,000 the last year we were both employed, yet we still owed taxes because I was self-employed.

We continued to try find the bright side, even though the stress has been tangible and we are officially "broke" and "poor." My cooking skills have improved with less eating out, I have discovered the gold of consignment shops, our children are healthy, and we have had family who helped when financial emergencies have come up, like the plumbing going suddenly in our house. My occasional contract positions keep us afloat and have paid for the small things, like Christmas and our daughter's first birthday.

Yes, we're "slow payers" some months, but the bills always get paid. For that reason alone we're doing better than so many others, right?

Last week, the state my husband works for announced it will be forced to make cuts. They adhere to a strict last hired, first fired policy. He will be unemployed no later than July 1.

And with that, Pollyanna has packed up and moved on.