Helen K. Meshin, who emigrated from Russia to New York in the mid-1990s, never envisioned being a stay-at-home mother, taking care of three children. She was the one with the high-powered career in finance in Manhattan, the one with the great salary, the one with a beautiful house in Westchester.
But after being laid off in the fall 2008, Meshin's American dream started to crumble.
Meshin had been a senior research analyst at The LongChamp Group, Inc., a subsidiary of Silvercrest Asset Management Group for a few years. Before that, she had other jobs in finance, and she had never been unemployed since arriving in the United States. Her husband was a well-compensated manager for a metal trading company. They had a 7 year-old boy who never wanted for anything.
In spring 2008 Meshin's husband told her that he wanted to fulfill his dream of becoming a professional chef. She gave him her whole-hearted support. While Meshin would keep on working, he would study at the prestigious Culinary Institute of America, get some hands-on experience at a restaurant for a year or so, and ultimately open his own.
But as the recession came, their plans collapsed like a house of cards.
Meshin was initially confident that she would land something quickly. She seemed to be doing well, too, scoring a number of interviews. But each of those prospects dried up, usually because of hiring freezes or because the companies were considering a number of candidates, but they were not really ready to hire anybody.
"A few employers told me that I was exactly the person they were looking for," she said. "But then I wouldn't hear anything from them."
Suddenly she felt very stressed. Neither she nor her husband was working, and searching for jobs was a nightmare. Nobody was hiring at that point. The financial job market was dead.
Meshin and her husband realized that it would have been hard to find any work in 2009. They had plenty of free time to devote to their son and started talking about having another child, betting on an improvement of the economy in 2010.
In January 2009 Meshin was pregnant. But a month later, her doctor gave her some wonderful and shocking news. She was carrying twins.
"I was completely freaked out," she said. "I could never think of myself as a mother of three, especially in such a situation".
After Meshin realized that her job search might take time and the twins were on the way, her husband left the Culinary Institute to avoid the expense of tuition, and they cut back on their spending drastically.
"I used to go to the grocery store and buy anything I wanted," she said. "Now I buy only things that are on sale".
The family lives in Westchester County, where taxes, Meshin said, have more than doubled since they bought their house in 2001. Currently, they have a $2,500 monthly mortgage payment. Real estate taxes of $1,700 per month add roughly $20,500 to their annual overhead. They survive on Meshin's unemployment benefits and savings.
Since the twins, a boy and a girl, were born nine months ago, Meshin's friends have handed down clothes and toys to them to help their parents out.
"It never occurred to me that my children would wear hand-me-downs," she said. "But I feel extremely fortunate that we have such great friends".
The process of searching for work and coming up empty has also left her feeling nearly spent. The longer she is unemployed, she believes, the slimmer her chances for being hired become.
"Employers in this field want recent experience," she said. "People who just got laid off have an advantage over me, because I have now been out of the market for a while".
The unemployed couple is now seriously considering moving back to Russia for a few years until the market gets better. Meshin is confident that her husband would land a job in Moscow, where chefs, she said, are in demand.
Meshin doesn't sound too excited when she talks about relocating, but as she puts it, "when you are in a situation like this, you gotta get creative".
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