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I took that "How privileged are you?" quiz thing that does the rounds every so often, but it doesn't really take a lot of things into consideration that are kind of important.

Like the fact that people's "economic class" levels can change dramatically in a very short span of time, usually for the worse, but not always.

Growing up as a kid in Michigan, my parents owned our house. Unfortunately, owning the house meant we didn't have a lot of money for anything else. One year the water heater exploded in February, and my folks could not come up with the $120 to replace it (1970s). Fortunately, my Dad's parents could be convinced (after a lot of talking) that a water heater WAS necessary in Michigan, in the dead of winter, with two small children in the house.

The house my parents bought had been an estate sale, which included a fully stocked "bomb shelter." It was kind of a sad excuse for a bomb shelter, not being reinforced or anything, just an extra room off the main basement, but it did come stocked with a shit ton of canned vegetables, cases of Spam and Campbell's soup, tuna, and powdered milk. We primarily ate out of that "bomb shelter." We also ate a lot of hot dogs, because the Engineering club my dad belonged to used to tour the hot dog factory, and after seeing how they were made, most of the other guys couldn't bring themselves to eat hot dogs after that especially not the free ones they got from the factory at the end of the tour, so they'd give them to my Dad, and we'd freeze them.

Mom didn't work, but that was because paying for childcare would have eaten up any wages she might have brought in.

I never knew how much our heating bill was, because Mom never wanted us to know how little we actually had. Which is one reason I really suck at budgeting now. My Mom went through some amazing financial contortions to make sure my sister and I never really knew how tight things were.

When I was ten, we moved to Boise, ID, and up into the Middle Class. My folks had sold the house in Michigan for twice what they'd paid for it ($20,000) and bought a house in Boise. My sister and I had our own rooms, and we could afford things like frozen vegetables, instead of canned, and we never had powdered milk in the house again. I finally got to see the modern labels on Campbell's soup. We got all of our clothes new, and I actually had a brief flirtation with label whoring, and then discovered that Calvin Klein jeans fit like shit, and went back to Levi's (which cost $12 back in the day) and factory seconds Seattle Blues. It was kind of cool, really. We could afford to fix stuff when it broke, although Dad still did most of the repairs on the cars himself.

Then, when I was 16, my Dad got laid off. He worked in Denver for a while, but that company looked to be going under, so he got a job in Ohio. Just before we could sell the house, the government announced a big HUD auction, and our offer disappeared. My folks had to turn the house over to the bank.

In Ohio, my mom had to work too so we could afford our apartment. Dad worked a lot of overtime, Mom worked evenings. We barely scraped by. My parents' credit was shot from losing the house, and from all the stuff they'd had to put on credit cards for us to survive when shit happened, like my Dad not working for several months, or when he went to work for those guys in Denver his paycheck bouncing, which happened a couple times.

After nine months in Ohio, a company in Seattle head-hunted my Dad and since everyone but Mom was fucking miserable in Ohio, we moved again.

In Seattle, with Mom working, we did manage to emerge back into the middle class. We had decent health insurance for the first time in, oh, ever. So I could get my asthma properly treated. I graduated high school here. It took another 3 or 4 years for my folks to get their credit in shape to actually buy a house. But they did. I went to community college and got an AA to get the basic and breadth shit out of the way first cheaper, and to be able to stay on my parents' insurance. I worked nearly full time while going to community college.

Right now, my folks are doing ok. Dad got laid off just recently, again, but picked up a long term contract on the other side of the state. They're looking at "selling" the house to my sister and her boyfriend, and renting over there for while.

Now, me.

My folks couldn't afford to send me to University, because all of the various economic ups and downs had eaten any college fund they might have started. And my Dad had gotten laid off two months before my wedding and six months before I started at a four year University, so we did Financial Aid and student loans. And I worked all through school, frequently two or more jobs.

After graduating, we did all right as I worked 60 hour weeks in the tech industry for a company that expected me to be tech support, network administration, purchasing and training all in one. After two years of that bullshit, I decided it was worth it to take out more student loan debt to go back to grad school and get the fuck out of tech. So back I went.

When I got out, done except for my thesis, I got a job as an admin at another university, and discovered that in the Seattle area if I tried to for teaching positions, I would be making less than poverty level wages. Working as an admin at a University gave me really good benefits, and more money than I could make teaching.* Which kind of killed my impetus to finish the thesis.

I will though. I swear.

Right now, the Boy and I are surviving. He got let go from his job. Mine makes enough to support us, just. We live with a room-mate, so we can afford to live in Seattle. But the thing is, while my folks are doing ok, and his are, too (paid off the house, retired, his Dad still working part time), if I lose my job, or things get any economically worse, we're fucked.

Neither of our families can afford to help us out more than minimally. They don't have the room or resources to take us in. They don't have the money to pay our rent, or any of our bills. We are pretty much on our own. Yes, we have friends, but a lot of them are in the same boat we are. Particularly in this job market.


The reason I present to you this economic roadmap of my life is to point out that economic stability can be really fleeting, especially in the laissez faire corporate atmosphere that currently exists. I'm pretty sure the days of the gold watch retirement are well and truly over.

And also to point out that a college education is no talisman against poverty. Not anymore. Its also not a terribly accurate predictor of class any more, either.


*Not kidding. I have several friends who are teaching at the college level right now, and I make more money than any of them.

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October 2012

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