Dude, Where is My Occupation?

Another guest post for the Formerly Middle Class series I have been randomly working on this summer, today’s poster asked to remain anonymous since they are someone that I know personally and we have shared friends and colleagues.

 Economy got you down? Realizing you are only holding onto middle class status by a thin string? Feel free to drop me a line at blackgirlinmaine@gmail.com. I would love to hear from you! As for me, I am enjoying the last few days of summer break with my son so posting is not a priority at the moment but I will be back soon.

 

One of the things I find as someone who used to consider myself middle class (and now often struggles to get a payment in before the power company shuts off my services) is that as the economy has tanked, so has the regard for certain skilled professions. Including my own. Which, as you can imagine, cuts into my income and propels me even farther from being truly middle class in terms of income.

We see this with non-profits that need skilled college-educated folks, which struggle to find funding now (whether from grants or private donors or otherwise) and get swept aside, leaving gaps in necessary areas like aiding the homeless, providing health services to the poor, giving educational services to those who need them, etc. And leaving a bunch of people who were probably barely middle class to begin with without jobs at all.

We see it with consultants who, while I often make fun of (because they seem to make a lot for doing very little sometimes), no longer find it as easy to locate companies willing to pay them for their insights and opinions.

We see it with PhDs who now must go find trades or do hourly work in fast food or gas stations or something because getting a job in a university, much less tenure, is harder than finding a virgin in Hollywood or Miami.

We see it in journalism and other writing/editing venues (and this is the area in which I work), where companies and organizations are less willing to pay for people who know what they are doing, and are more willing to let people with no experience (but who have lots of time because they’re out of work or stay at home/work at home spouses) take up the task. And then I see these very same people popping up on discussion boards asking other people how to find sources, locate critical information and otherwise put together a story, something I’ve spent more than 20 years mastering.

And so on.

There are no “safe” occupations. There are no truly “recession-proof” jobs. Sure, there will always be a need for IT folks because we are so computer- and Internet-dependent. Yes, people will always have a need for nurses or plumbers or electricians. But any occupation can find itself in a position where people will forestall paying for services from those folks or where there might one day be a glut of workers in the field relative to the jobs available.

I also realize that at the layers above and below the middle-class, there are professional occupations, trades, working class jobs, and others where people have been hard hit.

But the difference is that above the middle class level, chances are you have more resources to tap for longer to weather the storm. Or you have better stuff to sell and then downsize your lifestyle to something more manageable. You will also likely be cast in a better light when you go looking for loans and such to restart your life.

And below the middle class level, while it is no cake-walk by any means, there are services, private or public, to catch you more often. The closer you get to being truly poor, the more likely you can get things like healthcare (maybe for your kid if not for yourself), food and other essentials from agencies or programs of one sort or another.

But in the middle class, it has too long been assumed that we’re all OK. But the fact is that most of us didn’t notice the slow erosion of our career areas. Nor truly appreciate how our benefits, if we had company-based jobs, were being whittled away so that our minuscule raises really amounted to decreases in our real income year after year after year.

What I find, for better or worse, is more than a little resentment that I have been part of a socioeconomic class that provides the lion’s share of tax revenue in this nation and has for a very, very long time, and yet I am one of the people who has to go through the most hoops to get help and be among the least likely to receive a break.

And now, I find myself with a career I am no longer certain I can rely on solely (or maybe even pursue long-term), wondering if regaining my “middle class status” is even a realistic notion anymore. I know I’m not alone in this, and I wonder how many of us who once thought ourselves solidly middle class now face the very real possibility that we may need to pursue the less-lucrative trade jobs or the kind of jobs that once were the purview of high school and college students, just to keep ourselves out of the poorhouse.

How come we don’t talk about money?

If you are a regular reader at my little space here, you have probably noticed that I talk about money and things related to money an awful lot…in part because it seems very few of us really talk money. I mean the economy is in the shitter, jobs being lost left and right, health-care costs rising and if you are fortunate enough to have health insurance, what does it really cover?

Yet I noticed that very few of us really talk about money in real terms. I am talking its 4 days before payday, you know your credit cards are close to the brink and that your checking account has about $37 in it and you need milk, eggs, bread and gas. A friend calls you up and says lets get together for lunch or drinks; you know deep in your heart you need to say no because you are broke but do you say no? Or do you just go out, enjoy the meal hand over the plastic and wait to get the notice that you have overdrawn your account again.

Me, I tell the truth and say catch me after I get paid but I know a lot of folks who will mention bank fees and sometimes even bounced check fees to me. In many cases friends tell me its because they forgot to enter the receipts. Really? Am I the only person who generally knows what’s in my bank account at all times even without entering the receipts? Or is that just a convenient excuse for not saying the truth which is I am tight on cash.

Its funny because in my work with folks on the fringe of society, they are upfront about saying they are broke and often with no shame. Instead its folks in the various levels of the middle class who seems to find creative excuses for not talking about money. Now I recently posed this question why don’t we talk money and someone said because its no one else’s business…true enough. Yet with all that is going on economically in this country, most of us are feeling it one way or another. I cannot help thinking if we talked money, maybe we could better share resources in a way that would aid all of us.

Call me crazy but if we talked money, maybe folks would know which banks are better on fees, maybe we wouldn’t feel compelled to grab a coffee or meal when our wallet says a walk would be our better option. In a nation where we talk openly about so many things why are we so hesitant to talk about money in all shapes and forms and specifically when we are struggling? I cannot help but think that the reason previous generations weathered financial storms better is because maybe they were more open to talking money instead of feeling the need to put on airs and graces.

So what say you….do you talk about your financial situation with friends or is secret? If so, why or why not? Just curious.

Guest post: What Is This? Bizarro World?

Today’s post is brought to you by Deacon Blue of Holy Shit from Deacon Blue, he answered the call I put out a few weeks ago to hear from folks who are being impacted daily by this crazy economy,what follows is raw and open and a place I think many of us are in if we were to be honest. Thanks Deacon for being so open and sharing with us.  If anyone else wants to write about their struggles with the economy, I would love to have a guest post…hit me up at blackgirlinmaine@gmail.com.

My dad spent his entire career in blue-collar work, as a union electrician. There is no doubt that he spent most of that career, and all of my truly formative years, in the middle class.

I have a college education that I’m still paying for (and that my mom and dad helped pay for as well), a white-collar career, and I would call myself anything but middle class. In fact, I think this year I officially started skirting the “poor” category.

Oh, hell, who am I kidding? I’m on a state health-care plan now because my income has dropped so low. My family could, technically, qualify for one of those food cards that replaced the food stamps of old. The main reason I haven’t taken advantage of that is that, unlike with health-care, I still CAN afford food, and I’m not about to take from a program that other people still need more than me.

I find myself fearing at times that my dad, who has owned multiple houses in his life (and for some years has owned at least two, renting out one of them) must think I’m sort of idiot slacker. And he’s made enough hints and mentions that I must be doing something wrong with my spending or budgeting.

It irks me. Sometimes because he’s right. But mostly because he just doesn’t get it. And frankly, neither do many of my peers, some of whom are in similar straits as myself.

As I look back, I can see where shit started to fall apart for the middle class. After World War II, the middle class was created. Men and women (mostly men) who worked good paying jobs and got family benefits and eventually retirement benefits. They were able to buy homes, invest money and send their kids to college.

And then it began to fall apart, as more and more, those college educated kids found that they weren’t doing the jobs they supposedly got educated to do, and weren’t getting paid like their parents were. No, instead of defined work hours and hourly income, decent benefits, and overtime pay, we got salaries and some very fluid and changeable benefits. We had to work past normal work times, often with no compensation at all (except maybe “comp days,” which don’t exactly pay any bills). We were expected to give and give and give, but nobody compensated us adequately for what we did. And as the economy has globalized and now as the economy has begun to flounder, we are also expendable…or held hostage to our jobs, expected to do EVEN MORE, with even less compensation.

In essence, we were sold a bill of goods, and now if we say we don’t want to be worked to death for little pay and sometimes no benefits, we are told we aren’t team players. We aren’t hungry enough. We aren’t dedicated.

Welcome to Bizarro World.