Anyone who doubts in the unraveling of the middle class is welcome to join my Chanukah celebration this year. Just please bring the latkes, no-drip candles, and some presents for the kids.
I'm a private business owner in a very down market. My income has dropped significantly lower than even my curtailed expenses can cover, and each month I stretch things further and thinner than I imagined was possible just 30 days before. I don't receive a regular unemployment check or heating assistance or even reduced price haircuts and discounted clothing (one local ad advised patrons bringing proof of unemployment would get 50% off a haircut and another enticed those seeking work to come in for 70% off "select work attire"). When I don't have a client buying or selling a home or building, I earn bupkis (that's zero income for those of you lacking an English-to-kvetching dictionary).
I don't want to whine excessively. I am well aware that I still have much more than so many in this depressingly recessionary year. The roof over my head is not leaking, there's heat in every room, and a semi-stocked refrigerator. I know that someday, though I've depleted all my savings and retirement funds and ransomed everything but my children and my canines, I'll recommence earning more than I do now. I am thankful that my profession has not been totally outsourced and that my skills have not become obsolete, plus it is gratifying to hear clients specify that my experience (I read that as "age") is actually a plus. But oy, the holiday season has really thrown me for a loop-- and into a tizzy-- and then tossed me a curve for good measure.
It isn't just the loss of gifts and the holiday trappings that are weighing so heavily on me. We eliminated most presents last year, and have currently chopped our mini-list even further. We'll buy the cheapest candles we can find and frankly, jelly donuts and potato latkes are as far from expensive as they are nutritious. What I cannot evade at this most wonderful time is my real estate tax bill, bringing its own tidings of discomfort and distress.
Each and every year, in good times and bad, my town, county, and school district collectively send out huge, honking tax bills that arrive in mailboxes at the same time as the Chanukah and holiday greeting cards. With one-half due no later than January 10th, my yearly increases this decade have runs upwards of $1,000. For the total amount commanded by my last tax bill, I could have purchased a new Ford Focus, with bells, whistles, upgrades and a partridge in the back seat.
My middle-class neighborhood is still very nice, though my property values have sunk significantly even as the tax bills (allegedly based on the value of my home) have swelled. Thus, in a holiday season in which my loved ones and many, many neighbors could use a bit of a distracting celebration, we'll instead be scrimping and saving to pay the real estate taxes. Oh yes, we'll also be praying for some variation on the Chanukah miracle so we may make the few dollars in our accounts last a whole lot longer.