Recession Teaches More Than Hardship

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Since Tim Christiansen was laid off the week before Christmas last year, his wife Porsche has learned many lessons unanticipated in the meticulous life plan she used to have. Like how to let go of those plans and live for today. How to barter services, such as mending in exchange for diapers. How to apply for food stamps. How to make her own detergent. And that her husband is even more amazing than she realized when she married him.


A year ago, Porsche and Tim owned a townhouse in a vibrant part of Provo, Utah, where many neighbors had young children the same ages as their young daughters, Cadense and Cora. Tim had a BA in technology management and a well-paying job in residential construction. Porsche worked as a full-time mom, with a long-range plan envisioning a professional career after her children started school.
 
Now they live in a rental house next door to Porsche's parents in an aging neighborhood of Salt Lake City. Tim works full-time looking for regular employment, doing whatever handyman odd jobs he can find in the interim. Porsche is preparing to begin a 7-week health coordinator certification program so she can get a job as a medical secretary.
 
The Christiansens didn't lose their townhouse in Provo to foreclosure, but that probability became a source of increasing stress as unemployment depleted savings and increased credit card debt in the early months of this year. Porsche credits a dedicated friend in real estate for finding them a buyer in three months, while other homes in their neighborhood continued to languish on a Provo housing market depressed by a nearly 3% foreclosure rate.
 
The family had planned to move into the basement of Porsche's parents' home, until the house next door fortuitously became available for rent. Tim even managed to barter some remodeling work on the house in exchange for their first month's rent.
 
Having a family support network next door gives great comfort, but the employment prospects they hoped for in Salt Lake City have not materialized. July's income amounted to only $120. Still, Tim will not be defeated.
 
"I am amazed by how he keeps going," Porsche says. "It has been eight months and he still tries. He doesn't give up. My husband's great. He's not lazy. He's such a hard worker."
 
Unlike Rosa Jurado's soon-to-be-ex-husband, Tim Christiansen will apply for any kind of job. "Jobs that earn minimum wage, $8.50, $9 an hour--that can't support a family, but right now there's nothing else to do," Porsche explains. When I'm visiting her, Tim is working the last of a three-day job installing new doors in a building.
 
To give a sense of the overwhelming demand for even the most menial labor, Tim recently got called back for a third round of interviews to get a position as an orderly.  The company winnowed their pool of applicants down to a final four before deciding which candidate was best qualified to mop floors and scrub toilets.  Assumedly overqualified, Tim was not chosen for the job.
 
One of Porsche's most pressing concerns is how the situation strains her marriage. "I think in his eyes, the man should provide for his family," she says. Porsche admires Tim's relentless dedication to seeking means to support his family, but she accepts that such opportunities simply do not exist right now. That reality seems harder for Tim because it strikes a blow at his deeply-ingrained self-identity as breadwinner and head-of-household. "I love my husband so much," Porsche explains, "but that stress, tension, the money problems. It seems we're always arguing about money."
 
Porsche feels like the traditional notion of gender roles puts a greater burden on her husband than she can even imagine, which just makes her love him more when he does little things to cheer her up. One day Tim could tell Porsche was feeling stressed, so he told her that he would watch the kids and that she should go to the bookstore and buy the latest installment of the Twilight series, then come home and take a long hot bath. "He's such a sweet man. Despite everything going on, he still thinks about my happiness, which takes a special kind of person."

Despite difficulties of the past eight months, Porsche believes their appreciation of life could be enriched by the struggle. Now that they can't afford cable TV, everyone reads more and the kids do creative art projects instead of watching the Cartoon Network. "We were a little spoiled before," she admits. "It's nice to have things, but that's not important. Feeding my family is important. Clothes are important." But new clothes, the latest fashions, the best brands--not important. "As long as they're not running around naked, we're good."

Even after they get back to financial stability, Porsche says, "I still don't see myself ever spending full price again."  Having so little has instilled them with gratitude for what they do have, and she hopes that deep sense of appreciation will last.

Porsche may have surrendered her need to plan life since the recession upended it, but she does hold onto one important long-term wish. "I hope it makes my marriage stronger. I hope it makes us feel like we can pull together and get through anything as a team."

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Christina Davidson is a writer, photographer, and book editor who specializes in national security, terrorism, and war. She also writes for the food blog Feed The Masses. More

Christina Davidson is a writer, photographer and book editor based in Washington, D.C. She specializes in editing books about national security, terrorism, and war, but writes for a broad array of publications, including the popular frugalicious foodie blog Feed The Masses. She is working on a book based on her Recession Road Trip project for TheAtlantic.com.
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