Being Nobody and One Paycheck Away

Setback. If you experienced or are experiencing setback, you probably know first hand how hindering it can be in your daily life. Setbacks, minor or major, can be traumatic.

How do we cope with this?

Psychologists point to three main ways of coping—problem-focused, emotion-focused, and avoidance. If avoidance is prolonged, layers of problems may stack.

So, it’s October 2019 and almost 80% of Americans live paycheck to paycheck.

Yep, it’s a daunting statistic and I at first was skeptical about that figure. But my doubts were checked once I dove deeper in the research for several months.

There is a wide range of analyses from such experts as Robert Reich, to classic liberals like Richard Epstein, to myriad of market-based interpretations debating the cause and effects of middle class conditions and
the systems, institutions affecting and affected. It’s important to assess and
understand, but…

For the average Joe and Jane, we are HERE! Most of us are just trying to figure out how to pay the bills.

You may think: “that’s not me”.

BUT, many are “one paycheck away” from losing grip on the quality of life we are used to or expect. It seems that stability, as we know it, can come undone so easily, so unforgivingly.
This affects not only those who are struggling to climb out of poverty, the working poor; rather, the “middle class” is very much of this “club”! Over the last few decades, the middle class has decreased from ~80% to ~60% of the population. One paycheck away can quickly sneak in, translating into a step closer to losing your home, not having enough to provide for your children, a sudden illness requiring you to exhaust your savings, or anxiety of looking
in your bank account, realizing that there’s barely enough to cover next month’s utility bills.

The Federal Reserves recently stated that 40% of Americans don’t have $400 to cover an unexpected event. May mean that my credit card is maxed and I can’t ask mom again for another loan…

It’s also losing dignity, self-worth. Shameful that something I must have done got me in this position. If I just try harder…but
this nagging anxiety, this anger inside… May be like me, you, others we know, have had unexpected car repairs, illness, sudden loss of work, divorce or just the cliché “shit
happens”.  But it’s almost never a one-off occurrence. One thing after another becomes the “new normal”.

Ok, “setbacks”! Bring it on!

For me, often, it’s going without health insurance and/or not making a payment on my student loan. I keep telling myself that things WILL get better.

After all, I have never been homeless or displaced by natural disaster. I still am able to get work to earn MONEY, right? My setbacks
are minor; I should just “suck it up”!

But for many, the cascading setbacks are not so minor, even if it started as such. I witness and hear about stories of more and more folks sliding down the ladder. Frequently, it’s decline from accustomed “middle class” lifestyle to fringes of wading towards dreaded “working poor” or even “poverty” territories. Some are able to climb back up, at least temporarily. It’s not a straight forward path but complex.

We hang on while “I don’t know if I’ll make it” lurks in our echo chamber…

A lot of us have become a collective “nobody” fading into mostly obscure, meaningless pursuits of perceived financial gain and false stability. Along the way, perhaps we have become too numb to notice or care about all that has been lost.

The “somebody” we knew and identified with may not be someone we really know…

How did we get here?

Over a couple of decades, we probably didn’t even really notice we were working more, harder to achieve and produce. We “follow the rules” and “do the right thing”. We are proud contributors to ensure the American
economy grows. The US GDP (Gross Domestic Product which refers to the market
value of all final goods and services produced) grew at an average of more than
3% annually since 1948. We are at a 50-year low for unemployment and the Dow
Jones is 26,000+!

In exchange, there’s definitely more goods and services accessible to offer us more comfort and convenience.  Yes and so much more ENTERTAINMENT!

The privileges and prosperity we gained are measurable economically, at least on the surface levels. Wealth is primarily defined and tied to “assets”, “investments”, “prestige” and “money” we have.

Yep, both of my parents worked when I was growing up (1980s), because they had to. I had friends whose parents worked more than one job. The reruns on TV had families with only Dad working and that was always foreign to me…

We were considered middle class. Sure there was the house, car in the driveway, access to decent education, but just felt like it wasn’t
enough or something unnatural to me. Now, it’s just one day at a time…

While this is happening, disparities continue for many. We continue to hear about wealth and income inequalities but not much has been done to address it. It was not long ago in 2008 and several years after, that many lost their homes and recovery really has not made us whole. Racism, geospatial inequities and environmental injustice remain critically unresolved obstacles.

Again, for the average person, who is aware of these issues but has little or no time to do anything?

Not sure if it’s intentional or just circumstantial, we are helpless, exhausted
to think and act on a level deep enough to exact change. The default mode is not ideal. We probably know this; but SHIT, we got rent/mortgage, car payments and maybe a little extra to take the kids out this weekend for a movie?

Preferred coping method: “AVOIDANCE”.

Then, one paycheck away knocks. The knocks get louder…it’s a delivery we didn’t order or want. Free shipping via Amazon Prime…hmm, no refund, no return.

AND it has been going on for some time now (at least since the 1990s but things shifted before then); but there’s a collective amnesia we exercise repeatedly. So we forget easily as we defer to experts and policy makers to inform us that things are getting better…or will recover…

Or does it? Nevertheless, we are told we need to keep faith in the American Dream…

Why should we care?

For as long as I can remember, “leaders” and “experts” debate about how the economy may function to further growth, support jobs,
create American innovation, competitiveness, etc. They all seem to agree that the middle class is critical to a healthy economy, our democracy and communities… While it’s worthwhile to continue and take time for discourse, establish policies, the irony of just talking about things, waiting
for top-down initiatives to “fix” things, is nagging us. In real time, not much has worked and we may be running out of breath.

We may be at a tipping point where we just cannot produce more and for what? I can hear it now: proponents of prosperity “we just need to keep growing wealth, address income inequality and wealth gap…”

Yea, I see what’s going on in some communities, termed “progress” but it’s “gentrification” at work and translates into displacements and advances select “investments” for a few as means to achieve self-gain and interests.

Some may say that this is capitalism at work and we live in a free-market society.

I am not against people making money. I am not trying to promote socialist ideology. BUT I’m not fine with people serving self-interests
at the expense of others and playing games with other people’s lives…

Maybe it’s the increasing divisiveness these days that the yearning to belong, the need for community cohesion is pronounced. We seem to be stuck in a “zero sum game” and deep inside, it’s not that fun of a game.

There’s a collective sense that we are just not ok. Our stability is, at best, unstable. The unease is just not purely financial but
reach deep into our collective psyche and connections as humanity. AND many
acknowledge that no hero is going to come to “save” us. So, the call to action is ours. Individually and
collectively…AND it won’t be easy.

What are we doing?

One Paycheck Away is not just a film to profile the predicaments of the decline of the middle class. It’s an invitation to the
average person to share real life experience as efforts towards viable solutions that can be applied in our daily lives.

We have been fortunate so far in our development stage to have several average, middle class persons committed to actions, despite facing adverse conditions and very limited time and resources.

Maybe “somebody” is out there beyond that collective “nobody” echo chamber, in each of us, waiting to be found?

Email us your stories at: [email protected]

– Duncan Sill, Director/Producer

9 thoughts on “Being Nobody and One Paycheck Away”

  1. Thank you for this article. I’d also like to talk about the fact that it can always be hard when you’re in school and simply starting out to establish a long credit score. There are many pupils who are just trying to make it and have a good or positive credit history is often a difficult point to have.

    1. Thank you for bringing up this point! Credit is such an interesting concept, and you are right it is very difficult for people to establish long term credit and decent credit especially when they have so many other things to juggle. Thank you for taking the time to comment. Best, Duncan

  2. I’d have to verify with you here. Which is not one thing I often do! I enjoy studying a submit that can make people think. Also, thanks for permitting me to comment!

    1. We’d love to hear what you think! Thank you for taking the time to comment and please don’t hesitate to reach back out. Best, Duncan

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