I was in the nursery school office, writing a check for my daughter's tuition when it occurred to me that with all the retail stores closing, layoffs happening, and amidst various other economic woes, our nursery school might be affected. After some prodding, the ladies in the office let me know that they were at the lowest enrollment rate in the school's 12 year history, and on quite shaky ground financially. "A lot of families are either pulling their children out or even just leaving Los Angeles because the housing is so expensive. And then some people just aren't starting nursery school at all. They're interested, but they can't afford it. So they're just waiting until kindergarten when it's free, I guess."
One woman present during our conversation, let's call her Margie, said, "I ran into one of our dads [meaning the father of a child enrolled at the school] at the grocery store, and he was all dressed in sweats and unshaven. I asked him why he wasn't at work, thinking perhaps he'd taken the day off or something, and then he told me he'd been laid off. I felt so embarrassed to even have opened my big mouth, but he was a hard working guy in the internet industry. It just hadn't dawned on me that this nice, good, hard working guy could be laid off."
Another woman, Lucy, told me her daughter, a 30-year-old single mom, hadn't paid her variable rate mortgage in 2 months. But she didn't want to talk about it -- with her mom, with her lender, with anyone. She kept busy with work, picking up children from daycare, school, helping with homework. Her mom, Lucy, feels she needs to face the situation. But Lucy's daughter wants be noble, wants to be able to catch up, wants to not have to talk about it.
Which brings up an issue I have been grappling with throughout this economic meltdown: how does our society operate that good, simple people who work hard, tend to be losing? Losing jobs, homes, a sense of security. And why does it seem like greedy, dishonest people or groups are still receiving bonuses, benefitting from bailouts, and still winning? It's the saddest, most counterintuitive situation that I've had to face. I don't understand it. Is it because the wealthier among us have a voice and the ability to draw attention to themselves? Whereas individuals who are facing hard times are less interesting to the media and government?
I am presently in the middle class. I would be happy to graduate from it at any time, and be very rich. Surprisingly, that's not the case with most middle classers. The one thing that I've heard time and again from friends and relatives when discussing the difficult (it can be like pulling teeth to even have the subject discussed) issue of money is, "Don't get me wrong, I don't want to be rich or anything, I just want to do okay." Perhaps it is this attitude that is keeping our middle class at the losing end of this crisis.
The banks and large corporations have no shame about their thirst for money. They are rich, and they are going to use all of the resources at their disposal to remain so. Does that mean demanding help? Yes, and it's working for them, more or less. And the middle class? Are we unable to do the same because we are ashamed to even utter the word "money"? Perhaps we could take a lesson from the prosperous: don't be ashamed to ask for money. Don't be ashamed to use every resource available to get your needs met. It works, whether noble, greedy, right, or wrong. It works. But we must be able to talk about it, and sometimes shout about it. There's nothing shameful about taking care of yourself and your family.