SANFORD, Fla. — Seventeen-year-old Contessa Skelton learned that her mother had lost her job — for the second time in two years — as they stood in the parking lot outside her dentist's office.
Her mom told her the bad news. Together, they cried a little. "I was shocked," Tessa says, about one year later. "I didn't know what to think at first."
Her mother assured her that everything would be OK. Still, it was hard for Tessa to believe that after her mother's employer, Remington Colleges, had given her all of one hour to clean out her desk — along with just a week of severance pay. Her mother had lost her previous, long-standing job at GE Capital less than two years earlier.
The unemployment rate in Florida that July 2011 still hovered above 10 percent. No one was having an easy time getting or keeping a stable, well-paying job, even people who had a college degree or had worked for a major corporation.
High school had already been a rocky time, financially and socially, for Tessa. She had learned to watch her money constantly, incessantly even, thanks to her mom's bouts with unemployment. Did she have enough for gas? What about lunch, if she wanted to go off campus for pizza with her friends? She also needed money for a swim-team uniform and dues for dance competitions. And that summer, just before her senior year, the expenses of applying to college loomed large. If college was a ticket to prosperity, then just getting in line to get in — paying for the SATs and sending in applications — cost hundreds of dollars.