Thursday, May 7, 2009

A Small Town West of Atlanta, Georgia

I’m 21 years old, and I’m incredibly grateful just to have a job, and a place to live. I’m the one and only customer service representative for a small medical supply company about 45 minutes outside Atlanta. My boyfriend also works with this company, and thanks to the economy we have seen our already small staff progressively dwindle in size; he and I are now the only two full time employees. We are overworked and underpaid, each of us carries the responsibility of several different jobs, and every layoff adds more and more responsibility to our positions while adding absolutely nothing to our paychecks. There is no overtime at this company. If you work more than your scheduled 8:30-5:30, you receive no extra pay in return. There are no bonuses, no incentives.

We live frugally, going paycheck to paycheck, barely making enough to squeak by, and have accrued a couple thousand in credit card debt from floating groceries and gas when we run out of money. We share a vehicle that is fortunately paid off, but it’s on its last leg. We have no idea what we will do when it dies, we can’t afford a car payment. We have some meager savings set aside, but it’s hard to save money when it runs out so quickly. Even so, we get by for now, but just barely.

My mother’s portrait is entirely different. She and my father divorced several years ago. In the stress of the divorce she made the rash decision of leaving their beautiful new home and buying a fixer-upper from the 70’s. She lives there with my two teenage sisters, both of whom are still in school. Our father rarely pays any kind of child support, and left her with a massive amount of debt from their marriage. Still, they were getting by.

My mother is intelligent and hardworking, she had been employed with an international company for over ten years, and was the best at what she did. Then the bottom fell out of the economy and her branch of the company was closed. They wanted to keep her, they wanted her to move to Minnesota, or New York, but the housing market was in shambles. She knew there was no way she could sell the decrepit half-renovated house they were living in, nor did she want to move my sisters to state and another school district. So she stayed. She had a great resume and pristine references, she should be able to find another job in no time, right? Wrong.

She searched for 8 long depressing months, and then finally got a job with one of her former company’s competitors. It meant taking a pay cut, but it was something. She was there for four happy months, and then she was laid off with no warning. She was out of work again for another four months, then when things started looking hopeless, she managed to get another job, with another huge pay cut.

The already massive debt from her marriage was only made worse by the months she was without a job. Food, car payments, mortgage payments, it all went on credit. By no means were they living extravagantly, but because of all the debt they barely made ends meet when she was making $30 an hour last year, before the economy went to hell. Now she makes $15 an hour, and she is doomed to be in debt for the rest of her life.

I cried myself to sleep all those nights she was without a job, when it seemed imminent that they would lose their house, and my mother and my two little sisters would be homeless. Now I cry myself to sleep knowing that she will never be able to retire, knowing that she will never get the rewards she deserves for all those years of hard work. I cry myself to sleep knowing that there is nothing I can do to help her.

She wants me to go to college so badly, and I would love to have the opportunity to do so, but it seems so pointless now. A few months back, my company was considering hiring another person to share the workload. They posted the job listing on one site, and within 24 hours they were flooded with hundreds of resumes. People with years and years of experience, with bachelors and masters degrees, they were all desperate for a job that paid $10 an hour. Why would I go to college now? I want this situation to get better so badly, but it’s so hard to be optimistic when the world seems to be crumbling around us. But deep down, I know that there is only one direction to go when life has hit rock bottom. Up. So I’m sitting here, looking up from this pit, waiting.