Last night, we learned that the Senate struck down the latest jobs bill–the bill that was to keep extended unemployment benefits coming to those people who haven’t been able to find work after six months, or a year, or eighteen months of becoming unemployed.
My wife was one of those people.
As of yesterday, she lost her unemployment benefits. I have been working 20-30 hours per week, and while we have had to budget tightly, we have been able to make ends meet, care for our son, and even go out for coffee once in awhile while she has continued to look for work and collect unemployment. But those ends are about to stop meeting. We have entered panic mode.
This morning, I cancelled our cable–the last of our entertainment splurges (okay, so we’re keeping our Netflix account, and believe me, at two discs at a time, that feels pretty indulgent right now). We don’t know if we’ll have enough to pay our insanely expensive Bay Area rent this month. We probably will, but it’s going to be tight. Really tight. As in, so tight, that we have to spend the rest of our very meager savings on it, and we still don’t know if we’ll be able to afford it. We’re cutting every extra expense we can, selling one of our scrapyard-worthy cars, putting countless items up for auction on eBay, and I’m going as full time as my job will allow.
But I don’t know in the end if any of it will be enough.
The Republicans will tell you it’s our own fault, that J should have just gone out and gotten a job once she lost the first. If only just getting a job were so easy. My wife has been looking for work for eighteen months–since she learned that she would not be teaching after her first semester at a new university due to state budget cuts. She has a master’s degree. She even served in the military. She should be eminently hireable. She has been applying for every sort of job, from positions as a wine pourer to administrative assistants, tutoring and mentoring positions, grant writing positions, teaching and test prep, and everything in between. We’ve gotten no bites. None. Not even an interview–and usually not even confirmation that her application has been received. She has been going up against hundreds of people for each job, jobs for which she is extremely overqualified, jobs for which she is perfectly qualified. Still nothing.
And then came a great twist of fate last week. J received a phone call from the university. They want her to teach in the fall. Finally, we were going to have a break. Her unemployment benefits were about to be extended, and this was going to carry us through (with my work) to the end of September, when the first of her paychecks would start coming in. But that carrying through is not to be. We’re pretty sure she has a job–in two months (there is some fear that the loss of this jobs bill could cut her position yet again), but in the interim, there is still rent to pay, still power to keep on and mouths to keep fed, and we’re wondering how the hell that is all going to happen.
But we’re scrappy, and we’re resourceful, and somehow, we’re going to make all of this work. We don’t really have another choice.
This morning, we needed to get out of the house, needed a dose of normalcy to ease our anxieties for a few moments, so we raided the “coconut cash” (a stash of ones we keep in this funky ceramic coconut) and our quarters. After gathering seven dollars, we made our way to the farmer’s market where we knew we could only get a few things. We got our salad greens from our favorite farm, and then some early girl tomatoes. We had a dollar left. Not enough for much, but we spied some big, fat, organic carrots back at our favorite farm stand. Baby Genius loves carrots. We especially love this farm’s carrots. So we asked the farmer for a dollar’s worth and handed him the last of our quarters. He gave us a handful, and when J mentioned in passing, “They’re for the baby. He loves them,” the man gave us another handful with a warm smile. It amounted to maybe a pound and a half of carrots–nothing spectacular by any stretch of the imagination–but there was a knowing that accompanied that second handful of carrots from the farmer, a knowing and some charity.
In that moment I felt humbled–and touched. I cried behind my sunglasses as we walked away, both because this man offered up some kindness on a hard, hard day and because I can’t believe we’re in this position. But I know we’re going to make it out of this, that we’ll survive it and come out stronger.
Oh, and the coconut cash has been renamed. It’s now the carrot cash.