Four year degreed professional living in a large urban area – one of the largest in my country, which is an affluent, Western nation, with numerous safeguards to prevent homelessness and destitution. This does not in the least mean that they are successful, or even implemented correctly, and the manpower to monitor for those taking advantage, or truly needing more, is desperately lacking. Also, significant social stigma is attached to living on systematic handouts, and ability to wean oneself off and remain independent is almost nonexistant. Regardless, in this country you will not starve to death, die on the streets due to lack of medical care, or otherwise be left to the elements. You may end up with bills you cannot pay and debt you will never get out from under, but you will live. Whatever that means.
My situation is as follows – well paid, salaried individual, earning the lower end of the median income for my area, which is one of the highest income cities in the metropolitan area. In other words, I am one of the ‘poor’ in a rich city, which constitutes as extremely well off when compared with cities only a 15 minute drive away. I own a car, which I make payments on monthly, and am still paying off University tuition for a degree that enable me to get a job that pays enough to pay the student loans. I attended a state university, and did receive both scholarships and parental assistance. I do have an excellent health care plan from my employer, which is the first time I have had insurance in 7 years. I have had two emergency room visits in that time, resulting in several thousand dollars worth of bills, which my parents were able to pay for me. I do not have disability insurance. I do have a 401k plan for my retirement.
My monthly bills (without specific numbers) are as follows:
Rent (1/3 of my income)
2 student loan payments
gas for car (to get to work – some days drive, some metro)
metro card for the public transit system (to get to work)
Water, sewer, trash pick up (combined)
Charitable contributions (UNHCR, Red Cross, Greenpeace)
This does not include food, clothing, etc. For my position I am required to dress in Western business attire.
As you can see, I do not have to sacrifice everything.
My apartment is air conditioned, heated, has a gas stove, an electric washer and dryer, and I live alone. I could cut living expenses by having a roommate, but I am affluent enough to not have to, and it is my preference to live alone. I also am affluent enough to afford pets (two cats) and be able to feel reasonably sure I can take care of them.
Currently, I am sitting in a coffee shop, drinking a $4 Chai tea latte, watching my iphone for messages from friends, and typing on a a personal laptop. I am well dressed, and I blend in with the other patrons, despite being in one of the wealthier areas of this city.
I am terrified.
I have barely enough in my savings account to cover one month of bills were I to suddenly lose my position. I would immediately lose health care. I must be very careful of the kind of physical activity I engage in, especially related to my hands, which is how I earn a living. If I were to be injured to the point where I could not work, I would not be able to live without living on the system, which would mean losing almost everything I have. I do not at this time see how I will buy a house, or move. My taxes on my previous years income are due in two months, and I may or may not have enough to pay them. Even if I have enough, it will wipe out my meager savings, which puts me back at square one for emergencies. I will soon need repairs to my car, which I rely on for work, and am not sure how I will pay for that except with a credit card, which I have worked very hard to pay off, but apparently will have to use again. Although I earn an excellent salary, it is not enough to pay bills, save, retire, and still have a social life. I live only on my income, and do not have a partner to help support me or share expenses.
I do not know how secure my position is. I would like to think secure, but I do feel that in this economy one never knows. I do have a unique skill set and an excellent professional reputation. I guard both of those. Were I to be released from my current employer, there are others who would employ me in this city, but not to the degree that I am employed now – although I cannot say that with any certainty. I am able to earn a living from freelancing. I am fortunate to live in a city and an environment that would allow me to work. I have only lived here for 6 months, and was forced to move from my previous city and position to here in order to maintain income and standard of living.
The future is very scary to me – I don’t have anything to rely on except myself and my skills, and although I attempt to make sound financial decisions, factors that I cannot control (economic downturns, agency that I work for folding, injury, illness, being fired) could immediately render me in serious financial trouble, either unable to stay where I am, or reliant on family for living.
I don’t know how to solve this. I work myself to exhaustion, I have a constant feeling of nervousness and anxiety, I am unable to completely relax, and I do not do things I enjoy in order to save money.
Compounding these things is the stress of living in an environment where you are measured socially by your ability to blend in. To have a social network requires money – or the illusion of money. This is a factor that should not be ignored.
Stress causes headaches – occasionally migraines – memory problems, fatigue, depression, anxiety, poor decision making. These (in my case) have also resulted in weight loss, obsessive exercising, bouts of severe depression, mood swings, caffeine dependency, and a myriad of other symptoms that I may not even recognize.
I cannot imagine what it feels like to earn less, to be less secure, to be more precarious. I did everything ‘right’, and have resulted into an in debt, panicked, depressed, anorexic, workaholic adult, who should finally be settling into adulthood with some degree of security.
Although some of the emotions I am feeling may be my own tendency to worry and obsess and be neurotic, I must admit that earning more money would take a significant weight off my shoulders.