Friday, September 17, 2010

An American Story 2010

This happened to a friend of mine but it could be anyone's story so let's call her Anna. Anna grew up in the 1950s in a nice, middle-class family in a big city. Her grandparents had come from Ireland around the turn of the 20th Century and did well. Anna attended Catholic schools where she got good grades and she went on to college and got two advanced degrees. She found a decent job, got involved in various activities, had a circle of friends and had a nice life but then her father died and her mother became ill.

So Anna did what a good Irish daughter does, she began helping her mother spending her evenings and weekends taking care of her mother so she could stay at home. For awhile things went pretty well, she didn't have much time of her own but her mother needed her and she was a good daughter. But then September 11, 2001 happened and the economy began faltering. She got laid-off from her job but her mother was really ill and needed full time care so she decided to take care of her mother and worry about finding a job later. Her mother eventually died and Anna helped the family settle their mother's affairs.

Anna decided to leave the city and moved to a much smaller city in Massachusetts where her sister lived. She found a nice place to live, got a good job working in the office of the office of a local church, and began making friends. Everything seemed to be going fine until a devastating fire burned down the church. During the long, difficult process of trying to recover from that loss the congregation suffered from financial difficulties and Anna was laid off from her job. That's when things started becoming difficult. She found out that in Massachusetts people who work for religious institutions cannot collect unemployment because their employers are not required to pay in to unemployment. So, here she was, in her late fifties with no job, no unemployment during the worst recession since the Great Depression. Fortunately she had some savings she could live on as she set to work applying for jobs.

Anna had good computer skills and,while she was sending out dozens of resumes every day, she also taught herself some new, useful software skills. She also started some small online enterprises, selling stuff on eBay, and designing a line of products to sell through Cafe Press and other online shopping services. That helped a little. Weeks went by and she received very, very few responses to her dozens of resumes. When she followed up with phone calls she either could not get anyone to respond or was told they were not accepting phone calls at that time. She found a part time job and then another one but the pay was meager and she still found herself dipping in to savings just to make ends meet. The expense that was most difficult was paying for health insurance. She decided to look in to Massachusetts Health Insurance and switched to their plan which made the drain on her savings less.

Over the course of the next three years she was lucky enough to find a number of part time, temporary jobs, and often wound up working 60 or more hours a week just to survive. It was very challenging but she kept going. Occasionally she had an interview from the resumes she continued to send out but nothing came of them. She blamed the tough economy and her age. Over the summer she started bicycling to one of her jobs to save money. She enjoyed getting the extra exercise and fresh air but then the accident happened. She was biking home from work and stopped at a crosswalk. A car stopped at the Stop sign so she started pedaling across when the driver for some reason accelerated slamming in to her, knocking her off her bike and breaking her leg. It was a bad injury, a compound fracture and she was taken by ambulance to a nearby hospital where it was decided she needed to be in a trauma center so she was transported to a city medical center. There she waited three days for surgery on her leg. Of course during this time she could not work and had no income. Both her jobs were part time and paid low wages anyway. She began to worry.

The day after her surgery she was told that she needed to be in a rehab facility – she could not stand up on her own even to get to the bathroom. However, she learned that none of the area rehab facilities would accept her insurance. The hospital needed to release her but she could not go home because her apartment was on the second floor and she couldn't even go to the bathroom by herself.

Luckily she had family members who could help. She could stay with her sister for awhile while she recovered but, without rehabilitation, her chances for recovery sufficient to allow her to work were slim. She made the decision to spend the rest of her remaining savings to pay for two weeks in a rehab center but the only one that she could get in to was quite a ways from the town she lived in.

I talked to her a little while ago. She said she never thought at the age of almost sixty she would be in such a predicament. She said, “Thank God I have family and friends who are willing to help me.” She doesn't know when she will be able to walk again and if she will ever be able to find work again – and the money she saved is gone, or will be after rehab.

This is just one American story of an intelligent, well-educated woman who did all the right things, worked hard, tried to do her best and what was right, and is now broke, unemployed, and facing a frightening future. And, like I said, this is just one such story.

Thanks for reading.  


  1. Hi Kathleen -

    That is a terrible an frightening story. A little more bad luck than usual and you can fall through the cracks.

    Is there any way that "Anna" could sue the driver of the car. Lawyers who bring liability suits
    generally only get fees if they have won. Also, she should be eligible for social security disability.

    I hope that her life gets better.


  2. Hi Sally,

    I agree it is frightening. I'm sure she probably can sue but, of course, those cases take years to settle. She probably can get disability (I don't know for sure but I'd bet on it.)

    Thank you for your concern.


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