Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Portrait: St. Louis, Missouri

We moved just as school started. This was supposed to be our fresh start. When I was laid off in 2005, we had to file for bankruptcy and lost our house. A friend sold us her trailer for less than most used cars, so we were able to stay in the school district, but it was very old and very tiny. We went from having over 5 acres to living in a trailer park. It took me a year to find another job and a month later, my husband lost his. He was out of work for eight months. He finally found a good job, it paid ok and though it was far away, he commuted with a friend and it was steady work. When my sister took over my parents’ restaurant last summer, my husband went to work for her. It was a pay cut, but he really wanted to get back into cooking and we both liked the idea of supporting the family business. We decided to move close to the restaurant since our old trailer wouldn’t make it another winter and gas costs were getting out of control.

Now, I’m not so sure. I love being closer to my family. We have a beautiful apartment that is so much larger than the trailer. But, I miss our small town. I miss my close circle of friends that were always there for me and each other. I’m worried for them, I’m worried for us.

We’ve been hearing about it for months, seeing effects for months, and now they are circling closer and closer to home. Our hometown corporate identity, Budweiser, was sold. The Chrysler plant closed. A tax hike for the transit system failed so we may have to start driving our daughter to school when route cuts start this spring. There were layoffs in the shop at my company (I work in the office). People at my husband’s work complained about fewer hours. Then a friend is laid off from her job. It’s tough, but she’ll get by. Her husband still works. Another friend is laid off. This friend is the sole support for his disabled wife and their daughter. We worry and bring food when we visit because we’re not sure they’ll manage on their own.

Now my job is cutting back. The cost of my health insurance will no longer be covered by the company. I already pay for the rest of the family, but I saw the new rates, and we just can’t do it. My husband is beginning to lose hours, as well. We both work in luxury industries and I’m tied in with construction. Our move tripled our housing costs. Even though the savings in gas essentially canceled out the difference in housing, everything else costs more in the city. Household goods, toiletries, and, the big one, food (I have two teenagers at home).

We know how lucky we are. My daughter goes to a wonderful private high school and both kids have braces. All of that is paid for by my parents. My kids will have the college education I didn’t, also thanks to my parents. They couldn’t afford it for me, but they can do it for them and I am grateful.

So we’ll cut a little, here and there. Try to put by a few dollars, just in case. We’ll try to help others where we can. We’ve always lived on the edge. Sometimes it was on the edge of poverty, sometimes on the edge of middle class. We’ll manage somehow. Soon the kids will be old enough to get part time jobs at the restaurant, join in the family business. We hope. All we can do is hope.

St. Louis, MO