Coming to the End of the Good Life

See, over the past year and a half my spouse and I have been going through a whole bunch of stuff.  Mostly bad stuff, but as anyone who has gone through bad stuff knows, good stuff comes from bad stuff.  We’ve had a few good things happen.  I’ll write about those later, I promise.

Anyway, today I read a sad (please use an ironic tone here) story about a guy who inherited $14 million 10 years ago, netted about $10 million and then proceeded to spend all of it such that today, instead of having the lifestyle he was born to, now teaches a class in wine making at a community college for $51K a year in a small Kansas town.  You can read his whole silly sad story on Yahoo Finance – I’m not providing a link because I don’t want to give them a trackback.

Anyway, I decided this deserved a whole blog entry all of itself.

Coming to the End of the Good Life

For about 10 years, my spouse and I lived an OK life… sometimes we were both employed sometimes only one of us but in all, we were OK – roof over our head and food in the pantry.  In 2008 I became temporarily disabled and didn’t work for several months while my husband settled in to a great job at KU that we assumed he would retire from in a few years.  Neither of us had been particularly careful about jobs and retirement planning and that is our fault and certainly we accept full responsibility for that.  Somehow we thought we’d live for ever and be healthy doing it.  Silly us.

The end of our “good life” came after a vacation in 2009.  My spouse (if you read NoCiproPlease) contracted an infection in his leg and, after months of antibiotic infusion therapy, was over the infection but permanently disabled with chronic pain and peripherial neuropathy.  Although I’d retrained myself by getting an insurance license, I lost that job because of my need to care for my husband – “lost” no – let’s call a spade a spade here and use the proper terminology.  I was fired.

Many of you know that I have what I call 2.5 degrees – a BA, MA and I am ABD (all but dissertation) for a PhD.  I will most likely explain about that “quitting  the PhD thing” in another blog entry but for now let me just say that I did the math, figured out that at my advanced age a PhD would do me little good and gave up – ok there I said it –  there is more to it than that but that is what most people will remember so we’ll go with it.

What all this education does for me is make me over-educated for most jobs and under educated for others.  At this point in my life there is no perfect fit for me of a job, working for someone else, with retirement and health benefits.  The heart wringing thing about that statement is that I have been railing against that fact for over a year now.  I have to accept it and move on.

The only problem with “moving on” is that I still have bills to pay and a family to support.  Yes my spouse has a modest disability payment and yes Social Security will eventually kick in – we hope – but until then we are living off the disability payment, paying 1/3 of it out for insurance for my husband (I gave my insurance up because it was simply unaffordable) and still trying to keep the utilities on and food in the pantry.  But for the help of friends and especially my husband’s parents, we’d be homeless, either under a bridge, or in a family member’s basement.  I think it is the threat of living in his basement that keeps my father-in-law offering help as much as he can.

There are many rubs to this situation … some are (in no particular order):

  • My parents-in-law are rapidly coming to the end of their retirement nest egg – down to shells just about… and will no longer be able to help.
  • It is humiliating being over 50 years old to be in this financial situation – not to mention jobless.  No one wants to hire an over-qualified, over-educated, over-aged woman for anything – not even a job she did do when she only had a high school diploma (perhaps even especially not for such a job!)
  • It is even more humiliating to have to ask for help, not just from family and friends, but also from strangers – in my case, a food bank.  I cannot begin to tell you how grateful I am for the food bank and the people at the food bank.  They were gentle and understanding of my tears the first time I went –

One of the things that struck home with me in the Yahoo Finance story was that the subject of the story was working at a community college not very far away from where I live in Kansas.  Now, not only had this gentleman spent his inheritance moving his family from California (where his father had made his millions and he had run the family winery) to Great Britain but then came back to the US (because of the piss-poor economy in GB), bought a lake house in upstate New York, another house in Vermont and then proceeded to spend over $5 million renovating those homes while living in a different house and taking a job teaching English at a local community college.

As irony would have it, I interviewed for a job (not his) at the college where he is currently teaching one class of seven students how to make wine.  They are, according to the article, paying him $51K a year to do that and manage the college vineyard.  Now the job I applied for (albeit 3 years ago) was in the theatre department at the main campus some 120 miles from where I live in a tiny town in NE Kansas – this is important because I would have had to move me and my family to that town.  The job entailed teaching six classes of theatre (in a one-person department) of approximately 30 full-time students, plus produce, direct and design 5-6 shows a year, take one of those shows to ACT (a national competition), maintain the department’s lighting and construction equipment, AND manage the theatre which is used by the community for all kinds of meetings and other activities. The best I could figure in the three hour long interview was that, if I was lucky, I’d be able to limit my hours to somewhere around 200 a week (7 days a week) – all for $31,000 a year.

Am I bitter?  You betcha.  I have been out of work in Kansas for 2 of the last 3 years and all with 3 (so ok 2.5) degrees and no prospects. I get angry every time I hear a college advertise that life is better with a degree!  Right.  As my friends from the state next door say, “Show me!”

Do I begrudge this guy his job? Sure. I know PhDs working as clerks at Borders.  Eastern Kansas is pretty hard hit by unemployment — especially in the two big “university towns” of Manhattan and Lawrence – Wamego (the town he works in) is basically a “suburb” of Manhattan – close enough to be part of the action and far enough away to avoid student ghettos. These towns have lots of over-educated people (of which I am one). Jobs for people with degrees have hundreds of people applying for them. Jobs for people without degrees have thousands of people applying for them (people both with and without degrees). As a Kansan, I have a great big ole steaming, smelly pile of resentment against some guy who inherits a tidy sum, spends it stupidly, packs up from the California, then Great Britian and then New York and moves to a place where a $200K house is better than the $600K house he left behind, and snags a job that many of my fellow Kansans would be pleased to have in order to save their mortgaged-to-the-hilt, $125K house and continue to send their kid to the state-supported university nearby.  There are a few people living the high life here but they are not working for a state-supported university (well anymore anyway).

Am I a heartless cold bitch? No, not really … but in this case, I don’t care if anyone thinks I am. I’d be happy with a $20K job and I can’t get one because I am one of those over-educated thousands applying for jobs that I could have had with my high school diploma – the best I can do is freelance occasionally, write and keep up hope.  I do care about people who have had a legitimate fall from whatever their “affluence” was – I know people who were “OK” in their trailer park lives (and I am NOT being snide here – I know people who live in trailer parks!), working, paying bills, feeding their families until the bottom fell out and now, we are all the same.  Poverty is the great equalizer.

If you really want to know what life is like when one – how does the New York Times writer so cleverly put it? — “fall[s] from affluence” visit your local food bank and talk to the well-dressed people in line. We still have our “good” clothes from the days when we were working and could afford to buy them – we haven’t needed to go to the clothing banks – yet –

Also – a special, heart-felt thank you to the lovely people who do volunteer at the food banks – especially the ones who gently hold the newest visitor who cried, because for the first time in her life, instead of giving food to the food bank, she received food from the food bank.

I hope, fervently, that the light at the end of the tunnel is not the speeding train of global economic collapse and an ensuing Dark Ages – We all need to remember if it could happen to the Romans I could happen to us.

© 2010

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