You probably heard the news: Economists have declared that the recession is officially over. But for many ordinary Americans, it doesn’t feel like it’s over.
Yesterday, a middle-aged, professional woman asked President Obama at a town hall meeting, “My husband and I thought we were beyond the hot dog and beans of our lives. . . . Is this my new reality?”
According to consumer survey data, she’s not the only one with dismal dinner plans. The recent Chase Slate-U.S. News Consumer Monitor found that most Americans still say the economy is headed in the wrong direction. Only one in three reported improvements in their own finances.
Veronica Neilan, a reader who finished graduate school over a year ago, recently wrote that several stereotypes about “generation debt” continue to apply to her:
I graduated well over a year ago, and still live at home. It's less than ideal because I was an independent adult in grad school, but the reality is after all the bills are paid I don't make enough to get a decent place. Sure I could probably live in some drug infested, crime ridden ghetto but my quality of life would be worse.
And I have no money. My savings was depleted last year when I was unemployed for five months, my sister got married, my best friend from college got married, and my car needed practically everything repaired. Additionally, one of my part time positions with my agency was eliminated, restored, and then eliminated again.
Also, health insurance costs contributed to her money strains: Before she received health insurance benefits through her job, she paid for a pricey individual plan. Now, she can participate in her employer’s HMO, which offers lower premiums.
[For more money-saving tips, visit the U.S. News Alpha Consumer blog.]
She has also changed her Sallie Mae student loan repayment plan to interest-only, which isn’t helping her pay down any principal, but it does enable her to make ends meet in the short-term.
“I'm finally in a position where I can pay down my credit card bills, unless the rumors of furloughs at work turn out to be true. The full time staff was furloughed last fiscal year, and everyone had to take two furlough days a month,” she says.
Neilan says she feels like the period between 2009 and 2011, when she’s in her twenties and should feel like the entire world is at her fingertips, will be her “lost years.” She adds, “Quite honestly, that scares me more than anything else.”
Her story serves as a reality check: Yes, the recession might be over. And yes, many twenty- and thirty somethings have finally found their grooves after a tough start. But for every success story, there’s a story of continued frustration. The story of how Neilan overcame some of her financial obstacles is featured in more depth in Generation Earn: The Young Professional’s Guide to Spending, Investing, and Giving Back.