I used to have a house. I used to go on vacations. I used to shop at department stores, get my hair done and even enjoy pedicures. Now, I don't. I'm a member of the American "Used-to-Haves."
Now, I'm renting an apartment and I'm desperately awaiting a check so I can pay the rent. Yet, I'm lucky to have an apartment that includes utilities. Despite my college degree from a prestigious college, and solid employment track record, I can't get a job. It's been so long since my corporate days, I now feel unemployable.
My age doesn't help. But I'm as healthy as a thoroughbred, I appear quite young and would gladly accept a basic salary. I'm a bargain! But no. I'm freelancing for $15 an hour these days, but I used to earn $100 an hour. In fact, all the freelance hourly rates have been driven down to $15-30 an hour. To make ends meet, I also work as an aide ($13.75 an hour) and run a small local company. And my annual earnings are under $20,000.
I'm lucky to be in Massachusetts, where my health care is paid for, and fortunate to be of sound health and mind. But on days when I feel hopeless, I can envision myself 20 years from now, living in hardscrabble poverty. Female friends my age who are in similar financial circumstances are terrified of the future. If we can't get decent paying jobs today, there's little hope of getting a corporate job with benefits in the future. And during the past few years as we've struggled, we went through all of our savings, 401(k)s and anything left in the bottoms of our pocketbooks. So we can see ourselves as old, pathetic bent-over women, living in bus shelters, our ragged belongings in supermarket carts.
For the "Used-to-Haves," every day is a struggle to hold onto hope. Everywhere we look is a reminder of what we used to have.
We "Used-to-Haves" all used to work in the corporate world for big, wealthy companies. We were discarded in layoffs. I've been told, as my employer du jour let me go, what a positive difference I made and the value of my contributions. I agree. I know I made my bosses look brilliant. Fully aware that my contributions built the company's brand image. Yet, I was expendable.
As a new "Used-to-Have," I denied my slide. "I'm not poor!" I nervously chuckled to myself. But as I slid more, the smartest thing was finally acknowledging poverty and applying for the benefits available. I'd never been poor before. I didn't know how to be poor. But finally, I learned. The magnitude of my shame and embarrassment is unspeakable. It's impossible to explain to people who aren't poor -- "The Haves." When I'm beseechingly desperate for a check owed to me, the check writer inevitably has no concept of how frighteningly desperate I am for that money. They say, "Next week? or "The accountant says two weeks." I plead, nicely, sincerely, "Is there no way you could just write me that check?" And the answer is "no." It's just putting a pen to paper, but for "The Haves," I'm just a pain in the neck.
Despite the disappearance of the middle class and the proliferation of the "Used-to-Haves," Corporate America is as cavalier and unfeeling as they were when I was laid off. I remember working overtime for a New England financial firm on weekends, holidays and New Year's Eve. Getting my arm stuck in a copier while fixing a paper jam. Wearing matching t-shirts as we moved boxes from one location to another. You name it, I made every sacrifice to keep my job in Corporate America.
Watching John Boehner and the Republican Congress during the past few years has been a stunning confirmation of their seeming disregard for the "Used-to-Haves." As they pull down salaries of $174,000 a year, unparalleled benefits and the option of voting themselves a raise, their selfishness is unrivaled as they barricade health care reform, knowingly shut down the government, cut SNAP benefits and eliminate extended unemployment payments.
Congress doesn't have the stones to call up their lobbyist buddies and corporate honchos and insist they hire more unemployed Americans for the American companies they celebrate and boast about.
The press calls it "The Great Recession." It actually was the "Great Theft." In the wake of this very public, often-glossed-over theft from the middle class, the perpetrators have been revealed. We know the American corporations without the courage, scruples or heart to help us, the ones responsible for the recession and the politicians who put the toxic policies in place. We "Used-to-Haves" aren't stupid.
As a "Used-to-Have," I'm beyond angry. I'm not a "Never Had." I know what it's like to pay bills on time and have a little left over. I remember vacations and pedicures and going out to dinner. As a "Used-to-Have," I know exactly what Corporate America, lobbyists and politicians have taken away from me. The "Used-to-Haves" and the children of the "Used-to-Haves" won't forget. The "Used-to-Haves" are educated. Many of us and our children have amazing talent and academic honors. We know how to get things done. And though all of the odds appear to be against us, we must refuse to give up hope.
Kathleen's story is part of a Huffington Post series profiling Americans who work hard and yet still struggle to make ends meet. Learn more about other individuals' experiences here.
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