Monday, March 2, 2009

Portrait: Dayton, Ohio

I grew up in a blue-collar town with blue collar parents. My dad worked so much he missed out on a lot of things when we were little and once I was in school (I am the youngest of three), my mom began working 3rd shift at crappy jobs in order to make ends meet. There were no name brand shoes and going out to eat was a rare treat. I didn’t even know what a college-fund was until it was too late to start one for myself. I got a job at 15 and have been working since.

When I started college in 2002 I thought I was doing the safe thing: get a degree to have a better chance of getting a good job. I even went to a local community college to get my general education requirements out of the way and paid everything in full. Then I fell in love with academia and more specifically, Sociology, and created these far fetched plans of going to Europe for graduate school and then pursuing a PhD in Sociology or Philosphy. I was good at school; always making Dean’s list and throroughly enjoying going to class. It made sense for me to take it as far as possible.

$65,000 in student loans later, I have one year of Graduate coursework under my belt (that’s all I could get my public university to pay for and I’m not about to take out more loans to finish) and a job that is less than thrilling but pays well enough for me to get by. I’m no where near a PhD or in Europe, which is fine, life happened and I met someone worth staying in Ohio for, but the only way I’ll be able to continue graduate school is because I work at a small public university and the tuition is waived for full-time employees. I thank whatever powers that be every day for this job, but this is never where I pictured myself at 24.

I am getting married this year. I had to use forebearance on my federal loan re-payment in order to pay for things for the wedding because I make too much money (before taxes/retirement/benefits), don’t have any dependents and I’m not in school anymore so deferrment wasn’t an option. We are on a $5,000 budget for the wedding and I worry every day my FiancĂ© will loose his graphic design job due to the economy and then we won’t even be able to spend that. My private-loan company re-payment begins next month because forebearance on it would cost me a jump in my interest rate. It will be $363 a month for the next 20 years. I don’t know if we’ll ever be able to afford a house.

Is this the “American Dream”? Most days it feels like a nightmare. I thought getting a degree would mean I wouldn’t have to worry like my parents did about money, but I guess I was very wrong.

(near) Dayton, Ohio