Thursday, April 16, 2015

About Layoffs

Not surprisingly, I've been thinking about the fact that my father was the age I am now, when he was separated from the Air Force. In part, my memories are triggered by conversations on Twitter, about South Bend's argument over a casino, and this article by the Boston Globe, about being poor at an Ivy League school.

This may surprise some people, but Purdue University is not actually in the Ivy League. It is a state school in Indiana, part of the Big Ten. It is still a big-name school for engineering.

The rest of this post draws on a post I wrote 4 years ago, on my old blog. I guess I haven't gone into my story much in the past year or two. On one hand, moving on is a good thing, it means I don't need to re-tell it. On the other hand, it also means that new readers may not be aware of where I came from.

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I was 15 that summer, when my dad came up for promotion again. As a military officer, he had two chances to promote up before he was discharged. This was the second time, and he was not promoted.  That was also the summer when Mom was expecting my Dear Brother #3 (DB3).



On one hand, this meant that Dad didn't have to worry about getting leave to student teach in the spring. On the other hand, we had to move out of base housing, in December.

I think both our parents were home, out of work for about six months in the spring. Mom found a job early the next summer, when I was 16, but it wasn't enough to keep the family in Omaha. When Dad's first teaching job offer came, from a small town in Indiana, he took it.

The salary for a first-year teacher took us below the poverty line for a family of 4, and we were 7 going on 8. There were no opportunities for Mom to work in that small town. Especially not with an infant (DB3) and DB4 on the way. The four of us in school ate free school lunches for a year.  Mom and the babies were on WIC.  The rental house had a garden in back, which we ate from regularly. Dad's teaching adviser regularly brought over more produce from their garden, and the elderly couple next door would often ask DB2  to come over, to pick up sweets she had made and send them over to us.

The following spring, the school decided not to renew his contract. Whatever advice the Union gave him, it worked against him.

He found a new job over the summer, and we moved again, to South Bend. This time, Mom could find work too... in theory.  One of her first full-time jobs was at a bank.  She had mentioned that there were seasonal jobs there, but we were led to believe she had been hired to stay.  Shortly after the new year, they laid her off.

In addition to their full-time jobs, they took on one or two evening jobs.  Dad tutored at a company, and later added afternoon classes at a Hebrew Day School.  Mom taught test prep classes.  Even with that, I guess the severance pay was running out.  One afternoon, my senior year of high school, while the family was driving somewhere, Mom & Dad started making noises about using our savings accounts.  Taking the money I had earned, that I had saved to help me go to college, just months before I needed it to get myself out of the situation and into my college career. (It didn't happen. I kept my money.)

Mom took me to at least one of their WIC appointments. I think she figured it was an important life skill that I might need in the future.  (Thank goodness it hasn't happened yet.)  I did at least one of the shopping trips with WIC coupons, looking through the list of qualified items to pick up a set that we needed.

We survived.

It wasn't fun, it wasn't easy.

Mom didn't have time to make lasagna anymore.  When that was on the menu, it was mostly the frozen store-bought kind, and there were no leftovers.  I certainly wasn't starving... but I didn't turn down food, either.

My sister and I had voluntary jobs when I started high school. I had had a pretty good babysitting business until we left Base housing, and we tried a paper route while we lived in Omaha.  DB1 and DB2 had jobs in high school. I think their choice was "what job," not "to work or not to work".  I gather the money from their jobs also went to The Family.  Whether it was towards their high school tuition, or their auto insurance, or what, I don't know.

Some of the things I describe above are uncomfortable at the least...  this was also just about the time of Welfare Reform.

My uncle once forwarded one of those spam e-mails, something that compared one's salary to a class grade that a person earns by studying... and about people who went out partying every night, never studying, complaining when they fail. Suggesting points toward a school grade should be divided among the class, and implying that redistributing taxes/salaries are like that. Let's just say I don't see it that way.
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I am in a very different position than my parents were, when my father left the Air Force. I'm simply not there, and it has taken me a bit to process that this is different. I am different.

It took work. It took opportunities, a chance at a career. It didn't happen alone.

One of the reasons that I care about anti-racism work, is *because* having been white and poor, I can see the differences between what I experienced, and what I see poor people of color experiencing. I get some of the differences between their stories, and mine. Between white multi-generational poverty, and kick-'em-when-they're-down oppression.

I only get some, because I haven't lived their lives.

I am still continuing to do my homework for what it would take to start my own business. Whichever path I take next, a new job or starting my own, I plan to continue / resume giving back. Because *everyone* should have the opportunity to succeed.