When I was a child, I was told that if I worked hard and went to college then I would have a good job (and by extension, a good life). I would be able to afford what was once considered the basics: A home, a family, food on the table every night. I believed in all of this for a long time.
Then, when I enrolled in college at the University of Connecticut, the economy took a tumble and these basics became niceties. A home was no longer guaranteed, a family might not be plausible. The American Dream had been effectively reshaped overnight, by greedy men in business suits hellbent on building a wall. I mean a street. Or both. Wall Street.
I graduated from UConn in 2011 with over $60,000 in student debt and could not find a job for over two years. I was living with my parents, who could barely keep themselves afloat. It was a rough time. I now have a job in the field that I have always wanted to work in -- publishing -- but I live in constant fear of failure.
More than half of my pay each month goes towards minimum payments on student loans. The rest of it goes towards gas, food, and to helping my parents (who I still live with) pay for medical bills, utilities, and credit cards that have helped us survive at the same time that they have trapped us. I'm good at my job, but I'm still learning, and I know that there will always be someone out there who is willing to do the job for less. If I slip, then this all comes crumbling down.
And we are the lucky ones.
Many more of my friends have debt that far surpasses mine. Many more students around the country have families who have been evicted from homes; parents who have used their retirement accounts to pay the mortgage until it ran dry; rent and student loan payments that leave them with less than fifty dollars a month with which to buy food.
This is the new American Dream. To be able to buy food after the other bills have been paid is now what we aspire to.
And I fully blame this new American Dream on decrepit government policies that cater to business interests while leaving the interests of the citizens out in the cold. On a federal government that loans big banks millions of dollars at a near zero interest rate, and yet charges students -- citizens trying to get started in life -- twice, five times, ten times that rate. On an administration that helps Big Business flourish, and yet shackles the backbone of the nation -- students, workers, people -- with a new form of indentured servitude.
But what do I know? The only experience that I have in economics is trying to balance a budget in such a way so that I do not default on my loans, can afford to get to work each day, and help my parents try to keep a handle on their home and health. My mother works at Walmart (don't get me started on them) and my father, who has worked at the same factory for the last 25 years, was just laid off. My mother's diabetes medication costs nearly $400 a month, and with my father unemployed, there is no insurance to cover that cost. All I know is the constant fear that if I lose my job, it will not just be me that suffers. All I know is this New American Mythos of disappointment, lethargy, rust.
Tim'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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