The View From Your Recession

A reader writes:

The idea that this recession is over is a myth. A little more than two years ago, I left a pretty well-paying corporate job behind because it was making me miserable. I enrolled at the University of Wales, earned a Masters Degree, and returned home. Since then, I've held two jobs. The first, which I started a year ago, was a temp job doing pretty much what I'd been doing before I left, albeit for less money – but I took it because I needed money to start paying down my college loans. That job dried up in April.

After five months of being jobless (and unqualified for unemployment, since I hadn't held a permanent position), I recently started as an instructor at a junior college about fifty miles from where I live. It's a part-time job, and it doesn't pay much, but at least it's work. My financial situation is still in the toilet, but at least now I can see the top of the bowl. Thankfully, my parents have allowed me to stay at their house during this time, which has alleviated much of my financial burden. Unfortunately, that may not remain an option for very long.

My dad, who immigrated here from Ireland in the mid-'70s, is a butcher by trade, but, with my mom's help, he has run his own sausage-making business since I was born. A few years ago, he finally had enough clients to give up butchering and stake out his own claim as a wholesaler. He has about four or five times as many customers now as he did then, but their week-to-week orders are down, meaning he's having trouble making ends meet.

This morning, my dad, who will turn 63 next May and has problems walking thanks to some asshole who plowed into his car five years ago, told me that he's been applying for jobs as a courier or delivery man – the only things outside of butchering for which he's really qualified, since his only educational background is in some GED courses he took in the '70s. Meanwhile, to try to make ends meet, my mom, who turns 55 next week, has been desperately seeking her own second job. Because, aside from my dad's business, she hasn't held a full-time job since I was a baby, she is understandably filled with an immense amount of self-doubt. Three times this week, I've heard her quietly sobbing in front of the computer as she scours different websites, growing ever-more frustrated with the hoops through which many companies make candidates jump.

After the accident I mentioned, my dad's insurance company dropped them as clients. They have a different insurer now, but the premiums are astronomical – through no fault of their own, only through the fault of the afore-mentioned asshole. My little brother, who's finishing up his last year in college, has a crazy amount of food allergies, so they are completely paranoid about losing the health insurance for his sake. Had I the money, I'd help them out myself; but I barely have enough to meet my loan payments. Then this, which my mom just told me a few hours ago: For the first time in their lives, my folks are worried they're going to miss a mortgage payment because they simply don't have the money in the bank to pay it.

My parents aren't like those irresponsible people at which pseudo-libertarians point – the type who got in over their heads and now expect society's or the government's support. My dad worked for twenty years to build his business to a point at which it could be his last job; his hope was to sell the business in a few years in order to retire. But he's not even close to that; in fact, it seems like he's further away than ever. My parents have never been late on any bills. They work hard, pay their taxes, and are active members in the community. They've done everything that they were supposed to do. Similarly, I've done what I was supposed to do: gone to school, worked hard, gotten a good education, and decided to give back by teaching at a JC attended heavily by minorities. And yet, we're still drowning.

The recession isn't over; it's killing us. What's worse is that it appears to me that the American Dream isn't just, as punk rocker Ben Weasel put it, "an ugly fucking lie." The American Dream is nonexistent. When I see those who contribute nothing to society getting further and further ahead while my parents, whom I have seen work their asses off my whole life, drift further and further behind, I find that belief in the American Dream is like a belief in Santa Claus – a story told to kids to keep them in line.