Tag Archives: hard economic times

Bang bang…you’re dead

6 Apr

This past week has been fucking crazy in America, folks are just losing their ever loving minds. Last week and if I am wrong, please let me know..we had the fellow in  NY state who killed 13 before taking his own life. I was still reeling from hearing about that when I heard of the fellow in WA state who killed all 5 of his kids before taking his own life. Lastly there was the fellow who killed 3 police officers in PA.

Like many others, I fear that these acts of violence are so normal that deep down, do any of us care? Unless we have a personal connection, most likely not. I am just old enough at 36 to remember when this type of killing was not the norm, shit I remember the Columbine tragedy and how the nation was just blown away. Now its so normal that I swear the news barely keeps us up to date, since just last weekend a man in a southern state walked in a nursing home and shot up the joint. That story didn’t get much play…

What I find fascinating is that in many of the cases of the past several months in particular is that behind each killer is a human who suffered a loss, losses seem to range from jobs, to families and in the PA case some fear that guns would be taken away. While we are living in some crazy economic times, truth is we have been here before. I was 10 years old the last time the unemployment rate was this high and my dad had no job and we were real broke, so I know we have seen this before.  That was the year my parents got food from a food pantry and the beginning of my distinct hate for english muffins…the pantry had tons of those. I also remember the bottle of chocolate syrup that had expired, treats were a rarity at that stage so having that bottle of syrup be bad was a memory that I will always remember. My point in sharing this is not to make you feel bad for me but to remind folks we need to chill the fuck out. Rough financial waters are not a new thing, its just that its been a while since we have been here.

Problem is in the last decade we have created this fantasy that we can have it all, no longer is it enough to just have the basics, we all want to live like the rich, the famous, the powerful….our national religion became shopping, our center of worship was the mall. Yet its over…picnic in the park has been rained on. Its time for a new reality and we need it quickly, yet in addition to that new reality we also need to reach out and make connections.

Look, I’m just a chick in Maine who likes to run my mouth but the fact that since the mid to late 1990’s people have had less involvement im their communities (check out the book Bowling Alone), more involved online and a rise in the type of mass murders such as the ones this weekend. It does not take a Ph.D to say that maybe part of the issue is that folks no longer have the sort of relationships and connections that are valuable when facing a life crisis. Even in my own circle, I find it fascinating how little people discuss money even when folks don’t have jobs, folks put on the happy face. Well I will admit I have a tendency to let it out, I am already prone to stress, keeping it bottled up would do me no good.

No, in these hard times we need to rely on one another, I am not saying a friend would stop someone from killing but I have to believe that if someone had a support system, they would be less inclined to go on a killing spree. If we were able to talk openly and honestly, maybe fewer of us would reach our breaking points. Sadly I see more of the type of senseless killings happening in the future and not less.

Not to step on the toes of the NRA, but maybe we as a nation need to reevaluate our love affair with owning guns. I know…its allowed in the constitution and while yes guns can serve a good purpose when we are hunting for food and stopping intruders and those who mean us harm, how many more lives would be saved if no one owned guns?

After all lets not forget the bang bang sound of our youth while harmless when playing with our toy guns didn’t lead to the ,the reality is that real guns have the capacity to harm real people.

Driven to steal

24 Mar

I hesitate to post this because while I am not breaking any issues of confidentiality, as the director of the center I work at, I should probably keep my trap shut. However we are living in difficult times and well I think as times get rough we will see folks doing some desperate shit despite whatever the fallout may be.

My center serves low income, at risk kids and their families. The primary program we offer is an after-school program along with some other programming, its really a safe haven in an area that lacks for quality kids programming for the low income crowd.

We have a family, that has been involved for a while, several of their kids attend our program, on the surface the family seemed like good folks. I had no reason to have an unfavorable opinion about that, I know they struggle financially but truthfully considering that the area we serve has poverty rates that start at 50% and up depending on the block you happen to be on, its safe to say that most of the families we serve are struggling to make ends meet.

Well we have had a fund-raising activity going on, I can’t describe it since it would give away too much information but lets just say its a big activity and respective families can sell a certain product and raise a lot of money. Money that goes towards a really great cause. Well this family I noticed had not been around for the past few weeks, which I thought was strange but knowing how transient low income folks can be, it really did not register as strange on my radar. That was until yesterday, when it was brought to my attention via the group we are partnered with, that this family seems to have raised a lot of money in the name of the cause but have yet to turn in the money, folks are mad because they have not gotten the product and coupled with the fact that the kids have been MIA from the program, you can see where I am going with this.

So I called the family and basically was given a convoluted story that sounded crazy, but the bottom line is they don’t have the money and there are a lot of folks who spent money to get a product who won’t be getting. From my professional perspective, I have no idea how we will handle this. On the other hand from a personal perspective, I see a family that most likely started out with good intentions, the money started coming in and temptation arrived at their door.

I was reminded of a time many years ago when I was married to the now former spousal unit when we made some less than correct choices in order to stave off the collectors, buy Pampers, etc. Times when I stretched the truth and did what I had to do to survive. Its one of the reasons that when I heard this situation, I just wanted to talk to the family because I have been poor and I know lack of resources will make you do some really questionable shit including stealing from a kids group. Thankfully I never did anything on that magnitude but the line between this family and where I once was 15-16 years ago was not that great.

I think that as the economy spirals out of control, good people may find themselves tempted to do all sorts of shit they ought not to do and I am not talking taking a few paperclips from your job. However these same hard times while they can bring out the bad in us can also serve as a way to find the good in ourselves and we need to seek that good at a time when we can no longer count on the mall trips and other things to make us feel good about ourselves.

As for the family, well…I don’t know what will happen. If their kids come back they will be welcomed since its not my policy to turn away kids but I wish the parents would come clean.

A New Reality

1 Mar

I had not planned on blogging this weekend but reading this piece in today’s NY Times really left me needing to vent. In this piece the Times spoke with former executives who were used to earning decent salaries (70K and up) who now are having to take on survival jobs.

One fellow went from earning 70K to now making $12 an hour as a janitor, albeit he is working for a friend and still has health care benefits, something the average Joe who has been a janitor generally does not have. The piece showed the very human toll the current economic crisis is having on middle America. Yet while many folks may be thinking this is all new news, truth is there are many out there including yours truly who have been caught in the under-employed no benefit having world for quite a while.

Barbara Ehrenreich who is one of my favorite authors wrote about this phenomenon in her 2005 book “Bait and Switch: The Futile Pursuit of the American Dream”. For a good part of the last decade the number of folks who used to live solidly in the middle class with good jobs has been shrinking, of course thanks to easy credit it was still easy to keep up appearances and pretend you belonged even when you knew deep down you didn’t.

In the Times piece though one woman spoke of how her current loss of income and lower status job were actually harder than dealing with the loss of her mother. I will admit that this statement not only stood out to me but almost rubbed me the wrong way. Over the past 5-7 years the Spousal Unit and I have seen our own income drop lower and lower, I suppose when we get around to our taxes, we will only be a few thousand away from being eligible for low income tax credits such as Earned Income Credit, won’t be there just yet, but its ok give us another few years and we will be.

During this time I have  lost my beloved Mom and Grandma and while losing our income has been hard and at times devastating, nothing comes close to where I was 5 years ago when my mother died. Nothing. I suspect the only things that would ever be worse would be to lose my husband or kids.

In fact to equate the loss of jobs and money with our loved ones speaks volumes about us as a nation and judging from some of the heated comments that followed the NY Times piece, I am not the only one thinking this.

Look, it sucks donkey balls as my kid would say to go from a 6 figure salary and full benefits to living hand to mouth, shit I have been there, hell, I am still there. However the truth is these times reveal a lot about us and what we are made of, and in many cases out of what seems to be tragedy can come amazing growth potential.

As we move ahead as a nation in these unprecedented times, I suspect the emphasis will shift from going back where we were which I don’t see as sustainable to creating a new way of being, a simpler version of our lives yet there is potential for greater connection and inner growth.

America its time to wake up and face our new reality. Gone is $4 lattes several times a day and regular jaunts to the mall for the latest and newest gadget, instead we will spend our time chilling in the garden growing useful things and connecting to our fellow human in more meaningful ways.

The $12 chicken

25 Feb

Its been a busy day, I was almost too busy to post but after chuckling about my visit to the local health food store, I figured I share my experience.

Let me start off by saying I am a sucker when it comes to shopping at places like Whole Foods or any good natural grocery store, its rare that I walk out of such places spending less than a $100 which if you know these places, does not buy a lot of food. However  in keeping with my commitment to not spend so much this month, I went in to my local health food store with a firm commitment to spend $20 or less. Now my list only had oatmeal and coffee, the coffee is $11 a lb and bulk oats go for $1.69 a lb. I only added some dish washing liquid and a cup of coffee to go…grand total a mere $21 and some odd change. This was a very good visit for me as the spousal unit commented, I have never spent so little at this particular shop.

I must admit it though it was hard especially as the fresh meat section is now across from the bulk bins and the fresh organic chickens and ground beef were winking at me. That is until I looked up close and saw that the price on the rather small Colemans Natural Chicken was only $12. Yep, only $12 for a nice uncooked chicken, a nice raw chicken that would require me to go home and prepare it.

I have to be honest, I am all about the organics and eating local but $12 for a uncooked chicken that only appeared to be 3 pounds at best is well, rather stupid. In these rough economic times I have had to start picking and choosing what is organic that I can keep buying, right now diary products and ground beef are the two winners. Anything else well, its been a nice ride on the organics but I just can’t do it anymore. Thankfully, we are not huge diary consumers but its still hard paying almost $5 for a half gallon of milk when I could get the standard issue milk for $3 a gallon.

Guess its a sign of the times, for a while organics were the hottest trends in grocery items but I suspect as more of us tighten the financial belt, gone are the days of all organics, all the time.

Anyway no $12  chickens tonight instead we are eating the .49 lbs chicken legs courtesy of the local butcher.

Happy Wednesday all!

Cash for Clunkers…now all we need is some money

15 Jan

So I reading the local paper this morning and ran across this gem. On the surface it seems like a great idea, get folks to get rid of their old gas guzzling cars by offering an incentive of a few thousand dollars towards the purchase of a new, more efficient ride. However as I drank more coffee and thought about it, it struck me as a rather silly idea at least in these present economic times.

I mean have you priced a new car? I have and they are not cheap, shit you would be hard pressed to find a new efficient ride for under twenty thousand and with the credit markets resembling the state of the northeastern US this morning aka frozen, deep freeze….How many folks do you think are really gonna jump at this?

Instead of encouraging folks to buy newer more efficient cars maybe folks should be guided towards trying to live lives that are less car dependent in general. In my area folks own lots of cars, my next door neighbors have 3 cars for 2 adults, same with my neighbors across the street. Only one other family is a one car family like ours, funny thing is we live in the center of town so its possible to live here and do all your major life activities like shopping and banking without a car. It was the single most selling point when we chose this house instead of the gorgeous one in the country on 2 acres.

Look, Americans are wedded to their cars yet we need to change that. We need to create a better infrastructure by spending money on public transportation, take care of the rails which its my understanding have seen an increase in ridership this past year.  Yet even more folks might consider rail travel if it was more efficient. Right now for me to take the train to New York takes longer than driving there because to take the train involves switching not only trains in Boston but 2 train stations…um, that is not a way to encourage folks to travel by public transit.

Anyway while I think its nice that Congress wants to encourage folks to buy better cars, problem is this once again shows how disconnected the powers to be are with the average joes. Sort of like Bush’s stimulus that was supposed to stimulate the economy last year, folks didn’t run out to shop, they took that cash to pay down bills or else held onto it for the rainy day fund.

What we really need are some average joes making the laws who understand what its like to not have money, maybe then we’d get some ideas that reflect reality.  After all when you have a cushy 6 figure salary and excellent health insurance, its easy to forget the little man and woman.

Uh oh…times is tough

10 Nov

Despite the fact that Obama won the election, the economy still sucks and probably will for a really long time. Today brought the news that Circuit City is filing for bankruptcy protection and that DHL is laying off thousands of folks. Last month the economy shed a crazy number of jobs, just in my local paper they were talking about how car dealers are facing hard times and that in a state like Maine where a car is pretty much a necessity, ain’t nobody buying any cars. It doesn’t help that the credit market is still frozen, one local dealer was talking about how if folks had FICO scores of 700 they could still get loans. Um, problem is a lot of folks don’t have FICO scores of 700 including yours truly. (my credit scores sucks, that’s all I’m saying)

No kids, times is tough, retailers hoping that Christmas will bring a little joy to their bottom line can kiss that thought good bye. I suspect this will be the year of the frugal shopper, as folks have less disposable cash and credit since gone are the days of pulling money out of your house to finance your lifestyle. Right now if you are smart and you have some spare cash and credit, you are probably keeping it close to your vest in case you find yourself jobless.

Yet in the midst of all the woes, I read something on MSNBC that made me smile, layaway is making a comeback this year at places TJ Maxx, Burlington Coat Factory and a few other places in addition to regional stores. Y’all remember layaway? For those who forgot or are too young to remember, back in the ole days, you would go to a store pick out some stuff you wanted to buy, say you wanted $300 worth of stuff. Well the store might charge a small service fee of say $5 but basically you would have anywhere from 30-90 days to pay for the goods, when the good were paid for, you can take your shit home.

It was a simple concept, personally I used to love me some layaway, when my son was a small child that was often how I purchased his Christmas back when I was a single Mama. I didn’t have a credit card in those days and lived tight to the bone so as early as August, I would put his stuff in layaway and before Christmas it would be paid for. However in the past decade or so stores moved away from layaway instead offering customers store credit cards, now I know from the store perspective credit cards are a better deal however from a consumers point of view layaway is not a bad thing. Except that by a certain point it started to be viewed negatively as something those poor folks do, instead folks with any bit of means opted to use credit.

Well times have changed and layaway is back much like hitting the second hand stores is no longer seen as something only done by poor folks. Shit, my local Goodwill is economic melting pot, seems now everyone is looking for a deal.

I must admit that while I hope the economy starts to make a change, I actually see the desire for folks to lead a life more in line with their actual means as a positive thing. So yeah times are tough and we have to tighten our belts but who really needs 500 channels of cable tv on a huge ass tv?

Rough times a coming…

30 Sep

So no bailout, and yesterday’s market took a serious dive, I have been working today so I haven’t heard how today ended as far as the markets. I daresay rough and tough times are heading our  way. Now technically its been a tad rough at my house since last year when my former employer and I went our separate ways and our family income did a fancy nose dive. Needless to say we have been surviving with belt cinching and my decision after months of a not so productive job search of going into business for myself, making us a family of two self employed adults. The perks are when client business is good, then life is good here but there are those times when clients are slow to pay and an outing involves a trip to the library and maybe a stop at Starbucks for a coffee. That’s about where I am right now.

Anyway I have been noticing everyone’s wondering what happens if…. you end up jobless, or inflation drives us the cost of goods so high that everyone will be googling bean dishes since for the average Joe, a pot of beans will be about the only thing we can afford if shit gets any rougher. Bye-Bye soda, Cheetos and all the good extra tasty shit we are used to throwing in our carts. Of course, when I joined Weight Watchers 2 years ago, I had to give up the goodies, so nothing new for the kid.

No, seriously at least 2-3 of my normal blogs that I visit have posed the question of what will you do if we are thrown in to some fucked up third world status. Once upon a time this line of thought would have seemed silly, but maybe not so much anymore. I am intrigued by how many folks are starting to prepare for a worse case scenario by planning gardens, learning to make shit… all that shit we used to do years ago before we all caught a case of afflueza and shopping became our national religion.

As for the kid, I must admit I am thinking of taking up sewing and while I don’t think I can grow much right now with the cold weather coming, I am planning to buy some bulk items from some local farmers to put into a root cellar. In our case knowing that if our clients suddenly can’t pay, as contractors I know we won’t be at the top of the payment line over employees so I figure having some spare items will be good. Plus truth be told, I hate shopping anyway.

So, do you have a survival plan in place for a worse case scenario?