DH’s relative is getting laid off in December

This was originally going to be a post illustrating how the working class gets screwed over in the informal labor market using DH’s relative’s wife as an illustration.  As you may remember, she is undergoing chemo after a successful surgery to remove cancer in her brain.

She had been working as a waitress, but she can no longer do that.

Unfortunately, she dropped out of high school to raise her ex-husband’s kids, then worked briefly as a waitress, then married DH’s cousin and helped take care of his kids from his first wife, then started having kids of her own.  During the recession she tried getting a job but without a high school degree and with terrible credit, neither Walmart nor the Dollar Store were interested.  Eventually she went back to waitressing and bartending.

Doubly unfortunately, a lot of this waitressing work was tips only and under the table.  That’s not exactly legal, but it’s how she was able to make money.  Under the table doesn’t count towards Social Security.

Most of you reading (with the exception of academics in states like Illinois which has its own pension system) have already qualified for Social Security.  You worked in high school some, in college some, and then more or less steadily in respectable above-the-table jobs as an adult.  You need 40 quarters, or about 10 years, of work history total to qualify.

DH’s relative’s wife is six months short of that.  Because much of her work was under the table.  She’ll still get the spousal credit (half her husband’s SS) if she’s alive when she’s 62, but 62 is a couple decades away.  The problem is that she can’t work now and she can’t qualify for Disability Insurance.  She can’t even try to get SSDI because she doesn’t have enough of a work history.  (There’s SSI, but it is difficult to meet the resource limits for SSI.)

That was the news as of yesterday.  I was going to write out this post and then talk about how this under-the-table thing is a way to exploit our most vulnerable workers.

Today, DH’s relative called up DH to give him the news that he’s being laid off.  The state hasn’t been paying for construction projects and has stopped funding projects for state and local areas, so there’s a lot less business for the firm he works at.  And, because of the amount of time he’s had to take off because of his wife’s brain cancer treatments, he was the obvious person to let go.  At least they’re giving him more than 2 weeks.

Right now they have 3 teenagers at home and 1 of the older daughters with her child.  The daughter has a job at the Walmart a town away.

There’s no savings.  There’s lots of bills.  They have terrible credit.  Their house is underwater because they’ve used it as a cash account for years (and it was overvalued when they started taking “equity” out).  I don’t know what they’re going to do.  The relative is only 40, but years of hard working and hard living have aged him significantly.  There aren’t jobs in the area (he already commutes an hour to work each day) and they’ve never moved to the city (>2 hours away) where he could get a better paying job because she’s wanted to stay close to her (abusive) family.  Will they even be able to do that now?

And thank goodness (and thank Democrats) for the Medicaid expansion.  There’s still a lot more chemo in their future.

It is so hard to be poor in America.

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19 Responses to “DH’s relative is getting laid off in December”

  1. Practical Parsimony Says:

    Can you start a gofundme campaign for them, putting the money in your bank as the funds might keep her from getting any other help. There is a national telephone number–211–that helps people in need. Also 211.com. United Way will help with transportation to cancer treatment. I feel so sorry for them.

    Working under the table is a survival skill of the marginalized, but it has come back to bite her. So sad. Yes, this made me cry.

  2. Linda Says:

    This is so awful to read about. I can’t imagine what it would be like to experience.

    A few of my relatives are in precarious positions, too, but not quite that bad. My stepmother has children from her previous marriage that are mostly in non-college degree jobs. All of them graduated from high school, at least, but they mostly work in small Midwestern towns where the job choices aren’t as diverse or well-compensated as those in the big city (although, the cost of living is a bit less, too.) One stepsister has a teaching degree but she’s never landed a teaching job in her immediate area. When I asked her once why she didn’t take a job in Chicago where they definitely need teachers she said they were staying put so her husband could keep his job as a prison guard. So, she has spent her adult years unemployed or underemployed at a succession of small businesses with bad benefits. At least she has a SS work history, but if her husband dies first I wonder how she’ll survive.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Ugh. Salaries are relatively higher in Chicago too. Easier for him to find another job there than for her. Other people’s lives are so hard to understand sometimes.

      This relative’s older sister (who actually has a college degree from the state flagship and didn’t get pregnant at 16 like her parents or her brother did) ended up working 3 part-time jobs rather than as a teacher (and having five kids, at least one of whom got pregnant at 16) because she moved back to marry a guy who won’t keep a job. Sadly her experience has made a lot of that side of the family think that there’s no point to getting a college degree.

      This is all so depressing. I’m so glad that DH’s immediate family seems to have escaped the poverty trap. Possibly because my MIL is from out-of-town and determined.

    • Rosa Says:

      teaching jobs in Chicago are not that secure and might not pay a living wage, though – the suburban areas are a little better but CPS is not a great job bet, especially compared to a prison job. Which is a separate “how the poor are screwed” story.

  3. Ana Says:

    This is so sad to read & think about. I have no answers, but this illustrates how hard it is to get out of poverty, how the cycle can continue for generations. And why “pull yourself up” is such a privileged and ignorant thing to say.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I should note that this (white, rural, working class) relative is not voting for Trump. They believe a lot of the incorrect garbage spread on Facebook about HRC, but they still think Trump is worse.

  4. bogart Says:

    I’m so sorry.

  5. Cloud Says:

    Oh, this is heartbreaking. Our safety net lets people fall too low, and there are too many holes that let people fall all the way through. I have no solutions, either. If either of them has crafting skills, they might be able to make some money on Etsy, but it won’t be enough to live on unless they get extremely lucky. (If they do try it out, tell them to watch out for scams offering to build sales.)

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      She was making chocolates during various unemployed stints (even got her kitchen certified so she was legal to sell), but never sold them at the right price. She can’t really do anything right now, even household chores.

      They know a lot about scams. His father loses money (that he gets from being on disability) every year on a pig farm scam (same company constructed the farm, mortgages the farm, sells the piglets, sells the feed, and buys back the pigs) and she’s been through pretty much every MLM scheme known to Facebook (and pre-dating facebook).

  6. chacha1 Says:

    That is really sad. :-( It doesn’t seem like there’s anything outsiders can do to help, though, because the internal decision-making has been consistently bad. Eventually they will go bankrupt, and get foreclosed, and then they will qualify for some sort of local/state/federal aid. Jeez what a mess.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      On the plus side, he does have networks within construction and got two offers for job interviews the day after contacting people, though he doesn’t know when he will be able to go in to actually do the interviews. He’s very smart and if he hadn’t gotten a girl pregnant (twice) in high school or if his parents had better supported him when the first pregnancy happened, his life story would be very different.

      • chacha1 Says:

        yay for networks! I mean, most decent people, who are reliable, find that they have more people willing to help them find work (and in other ways) than they think they will. Maybe he needs a poke about “when to go do the interviews.” His current employer seems to wish him well (or would have just fired him w/o notice) and surely would let him take time off (unpaid probably, but still). And the kids are teenagers. As long as the wife has what she needs at home, the teenagers should be fending for themselves right about now (says the former latchkey kid from the age of 10).

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        He’s already taken so much time off because of the cancer treatments is the problem. We were definitely impressed that he hit the ground running with tapping his networks the day after he got the info.

  7. First Gen American Says:

    Do you ever wonder why banks don’t get blamed more for keeping people like this in poverty indefinitely? Without access to easy high interest credit cards and unsecured loans, it wouldn’t be as easy to dig yourself into a hole that some people can never dig out of.

    Would their lives have been better or worse without the stuff and the credit card debt that goes along with it? I can understand on some level you want to give people the freedom to make their own choices with free market economy but it just seems so predatory.

    I think the banks do a great job at spinning debt as a way (and many times, the only way) to get ahead in life. I just don’t think that’s true for things other than homes, cars, and some businesses.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      This section of DH’s family is closer to the unbanked than the credit-card debted. So it’s more about bank fees than about credit card rates.

    • Rosa Says:

      I wonder about this! Why are those fake home equity loans even allowed? The value of the loan is partly from the 30 year mortgage program which is federal. Why are for-profit banks allowed to go after that market twice?

  8. Revanche @ A Gai Shan Life Says:

    I have a pit in my stomach reading this. This was my introduction to adulthood starting in 2000, with just a few different details: Mom’s health which had been declining the past few years and making it all but impossible for her to work any regular job, and Dad couldn’t get steady work, and then even if he could have gotten hired at any job, Mom could no longer be home alone. I had to take on all the household responsibilities and earn enough money to pay for everything myself. It “worked” for us in the sense that I kept us afloat but I sacrificed my career path, I had to work for abusive employers for years to not sacrifice my education alongside it, I sacrificed my health to make it happen. I basically dedicated more than half my life to getting them out of the hole and keep them sheltered, fed, and given almost halfway decent medical and dental care. I hope it doesn’t take something that drastic, that maybe all the kids can pull together to support each other enough so that the older ones can work and help keep them afloat. There are no good answers on this :(

  9. Kellen Says:

    We don’t have the Medicaid extension here in GA and it’s bad :(. Grad students with $0 taxable income can’t get ACA subsidies.

    I have a coworker who is in and out of the hospital with a chronic illness, and it has really highlighted for me how terrible our social safety net is. Basically, we are trying to work with her as best we can, because she needs income and health insurance, but we are also limited in how well we can absorb someone being absent unexpectedly for a week at a time. No good options :(

  10. Updates of the life variety | Grumpy Rumblings (of the formerly untenured) Says:

    […] DH’s relative got a new job pretty much right away (via networking!).  It has better benefits and pays $1K more than his old job.  There’s also a little less hard labor work and a little more desk work which is good given his arthritis.  He’s disappointed because they decided the salary by asking him what he got paid and then adding 1K to it, and he is pretty sure he’s underpaid.  BUT it’s a better job and he won’t have an employment gap.  He did negotiate for another week of vacation and they didn’t blink. […]


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