In these changing economic times, a new class of Americans has risen through the ranks of the unemployed and underemployed—a group made up of workers lucky enough to enjoy the security of receiving a steady income which more or less covers their basic living expenses every month. These Americans, often described as “living paycheck to paycheck”, are quick to acknowledge that they have achieved the American dream.
“I know, I’m living the good life–and it’s pretty damn sweet,” said Las Vegas-area cashier Sylvia Martin, who is 52. “Most weeks I’m scheduled to work almost 40 hours, and every month I’m able to pay for rent, food, gas for my car, and sometimes even my heart medication, all from those wages—although there’s nothing left over. But then, just when I’m out of money, I get paid again, and I’m able to afford most of those things again the next month! I try not to talk about my situation too much, because a lot of my friends haven’t done as well as I have,” Martin admitted. “I don’t want to make them feel bad.”
Martin says she has friends and relatives whose low hourly wages and erratic work hours mean that although they are employed full-time, they are forced to rely on government assistance to, take out high-interest payday loans, or to use credit cards to pay for basic necessities like rent and food in order to make ends meet every month.
Steven Conley, who works at a gas station in Springfield, New Jersey, is in that situation, but he says he can remember better times– when he too was able to use his bi-weekly paychecks to cover almost all his living expenses. “Before they cut my hours back, I was living pretty large,” he said. “Sometimes even after I had bought groceries, and paid my car insurance and my health insurance and my cell phone bill, I had a few bucks left over at the end of the month to use for anything I wanted—which was pretty off the hook. I was definitely flush with cash in those days,” he said, shaking his head.
“I wish I could have saved that money for a rainy day,” Conley added, “but I used to just blow it every month on stuff like car repairs and haircuts. When I think of how recklessly I used to spend in those days, I just want to go back in time and slap myself,” Conley said ruefully. “I didn’t realize how good I had it back then. I sure was living the dream.”