The Way We Work: One Family Struggles With New Definition of Middle Class
For Kathy Ross and her family, life has changed since losing her job with General Motors.
From the outside, Kathy Ross admits that her family may seem like the typical middle class family. A nice home in the suburbs of Hartland, a flat screen TV hanging on the wall and a game system waiting for her daughter to come home and play the Garage Band video game.
The reality, however, is slightly different.
“It’s a house of cards,” the Hartland resident said. “We’re hanging on to what we have and on the surface it looks like we’re a middle class family, but if something, one thing happens, one of us gets sick, one health issue, the whole thing comes crumbling down.”
In December of 2008, after almost 20 years at General Motors, working in various departments over the years, Ross lost her job to company re-structuring and the GM bail-out.
The couple also started to slowly lose the middle class lifestyle they had worked so diligently for.
“I don’t think I’m middle class anymore,” Ross said. “I would call me working poor. We’re hanging on to what we have.”
The Ross family isn’t alone. According to a new census data, 35 percent of U.S. households live on $35,000 or less and according to My Budget 360, there is a "continuing trend that is pushing more average Americans into a perpetual struggle to stay financially afloat."
Ross’s husband, Jon, who works full-time in the medical field, supported the family for nearly two years before she was able to find a part-time job close to home. Now, the 44-year-old mother and wife says that years after losing her high-paying job with GM, how they live has completely changed.
“We don’t spend money the way we used to, we just kind of get by,” Ross said. “I don’t know how we’ve done it, but we have managed to tighten up our budget to a point that is ridiculous.”
Cutting back on outside entertainment, buying generic product brands from everything from shampoo to food and help from other family members is how Ross says her small family has managed to survive during their financial crisis.
“We have no money to do anything fun,” she said. “We have been very lucky that we haven’t lost the house and still have money in the bank. My savings has taken a hit, and will continue to take a hit before this is all through.”
Job Hunting During High Unemployment Rate in Michigan
A casualty of the General Motors crisis in 2008, the department Ross was in at GMAC, which handled financing for auto loans, was eliminated in Michigan. Job duties from the department were seperated and sent to places such as India, the Philippines and Mexico and the 25 Michigan-based employees were told they had six months left with the company, but would receive bonuses if they stayed until the end.
That "gruelling" six months turned into 12 months, according to Ross, where part of her day now included training the people who would eventually become responsible for her job overseas.
In July of 2009, Michigan had an unemployment rate of 15 percent, according to Money Magazine, the highest rate since 1984 and when Ross officially became unemployed, she entered into that growing pool of Michigan job hunters. Even with nearly two decades of experience, Ross spent the next two years struggling to find work, competing against thousands of others looking to do the same.
Three years later, Ross is currently a part-time teller at the Citizens Bank in Hartland. It's a job she says she enjoys because of location and the ability to interact with the community she lives in.
"Washington Needs to Re-Think How They Do Business"
But since leaving Michigan for other employment isn't an option due to her elderly parents, Ross says she is focusing now on saving money for her own daughter's education rather than investing in her own. And with the election coming up in November, Ross says she hopes that the people in Washington will re-think how they do business.
"If everybody else has to re-think how we do business," she said. "Then Washington can not just sit there and chug along in the same dated mindset. I would love to see someone come in and fix all this, but no one knows how."
As for the Ross family, they continue to "get by" even though the last few years have taken an emotional toll on Ross.
"I’m a much less hopeful person," she said. "Life has changed. I would have probably had a new car or two in my driveway. I have a new used car sitting in my garage right now, but it’s not a GM. There won’t be another GM in my driveway ever again."