Fancy meeting you, here in this Age of Austerity. Publications from the New York Times to Lucky Magazine are commenting about the required as well as the elected mantle of frugality. Do a search on the Times' website and you'll come up with "Consumed: Haute Frugality" and "Austere Times? Perfect!" Apparently, all articles I'll have to read. Lucky, the shopping rag, is beside itself (and the self of its advertisers) with online features such as "This Entire Site is Under $30". eBay and H&M are plastered all over it. A friend's mother, age 70 and independantly wealthy, self-identifies as "only a corner away from bag lady". This new era is playing heavily on our conscience. Even those fully employed with healthy savings are taking on the Great Depression Challenge. Seems we're all game.
I have mixed feelings about the common experience of austerity. Maybe some sense of ownership over the New Now? I know we are not unique - out of jobs and anxious about our future. But when I read about New York City apartment owners taking in boarders when they're still making great salaries, or hear the tense fear and anxiety on the other end of the phone as a friend talks about her husband not getting paid his bonus on time, I want to scream "J-O-B, people!" as I stab wildly with two thumbs at my own chest.
But remember 9-11? No matter where you lived or how you voted, you were changed by living it. Everyone has a story, a reason (fact or fiction) the attacks changed our life. Similarly, John and I will always tell our shock and terror story which began with having the door closed behind him by his boss and the HR professional who axed him. And others will have their narrative about the New Now.
OK - so maybe I am trying to own the New Now, a little. I confess - and here are two points that set me straight (for the moment). The first one, the sanity check that doesn't even require a trip to Africa or India. Last week an article was published in the Times called "Keeping It Secret as the Family Car Becomes a Home" http://www.nytimes.com/2006/04/02/us/02cars.html?_r=1&scp=9&sq=homeless&st=cse. Ian Urbana writes "As with all homeless people, finding food, warmth and a place to clean up is a constant struggle. But for those who live in their cars, remaining inconspicuous is its own challenge, and though living this way is illegal in most places, experts and advocates believe it is a growing trend." I'm feeling deprived because John and I haven't been on a date since November. Larry Chaney of Erie, PA passes his time over a single cup of coffee in a local diner and plays "mindlessly" with a ring of keys to mask the fact that he has no door to unlock.
For the second slap-me point, read Judith Warner's blog "Domestic Disturbances", her post entitled "Families to Care About" http://warner.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/03/19/families-to-care-about/#more-219. Warner toggles between joining me in my desire to make this economic crisis a wake-up call for "yummy mummies" who have sadly had to cut their nanny staff. I read the post with relish, thinking Warner was leading to a conclusion that would damn the mummy while we damn her banker spouse. Instead - egg in face - Warner goes another direction, saying that "this is a classic blue collar recession. Fully half the jobs that have been lost so far have been in construction and manufacturing. Only 5.1 percent of job losses have been in finance and insurance — the kinds of careers that support the opt-out lifestyle." So it's not about the millionaire or the mummy at all. Snap out of it, sister! Those who are really in crisis are the same who have triple-jobbed while passing their spouses in the hallway. Shame on me for forgetting that I rest soundly in that white-collar 5%.
This is all about the reminder that - still - we need to create an economy that supports women and men who have never had it easy. We need flexible hours and borderless employers who see working from home as a win-win. We need childcare that will help fill our schools with richly textured kindergartners. (Maria Montessori fashioned her early childhood institutes for poor children in early 20th century Italy, not rich suburbanite tikes.) Women are contributing hugely to digging us out of this crisis (82% of those who've sought unemployment in the last 8 months are men). Time to remind ourselves what kind of quest we've been on to support them, and continue the fight.