The mean kid on the playground?

Opinion posted March 28, 2013 in News by Rachel Lytle


The Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that government employment showed little change between the months of December and January of this year.

For me, that little change was not so little. It cut funding for my mother’s job, and in what took her boss only seven short minutes, she was laid off after being a computer programmer for the government for almost 13 years.

In less than three months, I will have the honor of walking across the stage to receive my Penn State diploma – a college degree from the same university both my parents attended 29 years ago.

In less than three months, I will be entering the same workforce that left the skillful woman who taught me to follow my dreams, stuck at home to do things like organize the junk drawer and watch soap operas.


Those three months cannot come slow enough.  


Back in 2008, the financial crisis sent the U.S. economy in a free fall leaving mass unemployment that now burdens families of all types and creates fear in the minds of recent college graduates. For a while, I never fit into that category.


Ever since my senior year of high school, the broken economy has knocked on almost every door around the country but my own. My friend’s house was foreclosed and the servers at Cheeseburger in Paradise where I worked often left without enough tips to pay their rent. Though I struggled to pay for gas at more than $4 a gallon, I was lucky enough to have a car provided for me, even when that $4 only got my Ford Sport Track 15 miles down the road.


At the end of the day, I had parents who could support me. I lived in a sheltered, bubble of a community fueled by the Patuxent Naval Air Station in our area, and all was well. At the end of the day, I fell under the economy’s psychological spell: The “it won’t happen to me” syndrome.


Yet, all of the signs were staring me in the face.  Throughout college, I held various unpaid internships. After receiving a position at a local radio station, not only did they not pay me, it cost me. In order to receive college credit, I had to spend $1,200 for one, out-of-state credit.


Funny thing is, none of this should happen to me, or anyone for that matter. The U.S. Labor Department revealed in its January report that 157,000 jobs were created last month, yet the unemployment rate rose one percent to 7.9.


About six months ago, USA Today published a story about Laurie Cullinan of Royal Oak, Mich., who lost her office-manager job two years ago. She then lost her $312 a week unemployment check and was worried that she will be evicted from her apartment. In a commentary by Paul Davidson, this was "an unthinkable prospect for the 52-year-old," since Cullinan used to enjoy a solid middle-class lifestyle.


She used to enjoy my mother’s lifestyle.


If a once middle-class woman with years of know-how can't get a job, what does this type of economy mean for someone with minimal experience and right-out-of-school? What does it mean for my family?


So far, it means being a bit stricter about turning off the lights in rooms we're not using. It means cutting back on our DirectTV channels, and not going on a summer family vacation. It means eating out a little bit less, and buying Target brands instead of Aveeno. So far, it’s been one month.


I know the economy is a tricky subject. I know that what I'm describing is not the worst of it. But we expect the United States government to be our backbone, which is why it's also our job as citizens to scrutinize that government until we get the results we deserve.


Back in 2010, Scott Winship said in the Economist that being unable to find work, "doesn't just affect your economic security, [it] affects your heart and your soul. It beats you up."


Flash-forward three years and new wounds are still forming. Is the economy the new bully? A master manipulator lurking in the shadows of the American dream?


Well, it would seem so. Because February marks the first month in over a decade that my mother will not be receiving a paycheck, and like a beat-up kid on a playground, no statistic can capture that emotion.