‘I see no way out’: Living paycheck to paycheck is disturbingly common

Philly.com – by Danielle Paquette, Washington Post


“It’s a constant stressor.”

“I see no way out.”

What do professors, real estate agents, farmers, business executives, computer programmers, and store clerks have in common?

They’re not immune to the harsh reality of living paycheck to paycheck, according to dozens of people who responded to a Washington Post inquiry on Twitter.

They’re millennials, Gen Xers, and baby boomers. They work in big cities and rural towns. They’ve tried to save — but rent, child care, student loans, and medical bills get in the way.

National data on the paycheck-to-paycheck experience is flimsy, but a recent report from the Federal Reserve spotlights the prevalence of extra-tight budgets: Four in 10 adults say they couldn’t produce $400 in an emergency without sliding into debt or selling something, according to the 2017 figures.

The partial government shutdown, which began last Friday and is temporarily halting pay for some 800,000 federal workers, has touched off a heated discussion on Twitter about what it means to get by in the United States. (President Donald Trump warned this closure could “last a very long time” if Congress doesn’t meet his demands for billions of dollars for a border wall.)

Even brief income lapses can spell disaster for some households.

“My husband is a Park Ranger in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and he had to sign his furlough papers,” one woman tweeted. “We have a 4 yr. old and a 4-month-old, and we don’t know when his next check will come. Mortgage is due, Christmas 2 days away.”

“Broke my lease to accept new fed job for which I have to attend 7 months of training in another state,” wrote another Twitter user who later deleted the tweet. “Training canceled with shutdown. Homeless. Can’t afford short(?)-term housing/have to work full-time for no pay/returning Christmas presents.”

These and other #ShutdownStories took off online after Rep. Scott Perry (R., Pa.) suggested last week that a gap in wages wouldn’t be so bad.

“Who’s living that they’re not going to make it to the next paycheck?” he asked reporters, adding that most of those impacted would qualify for back pay.

According to economists: A lot of people.

“It’s astronomical what people need just to make it month to month,” said Heidi Shierholz, a former chief economist at the Department of Labor who now studies how middle-class families spend their wages at the Economic Policy Institute, a Washington think tank that is funded by foundations and unions. “Given the high cost of transportation, housing, health care. … There is often no wriggle room.”

About 2,000 custodians, security guards, housekeepers, and other federal building workers are losing money this holiday season because of the shutdown, according to 32BJ SEIU, an East Coast labor union — and because such staffers are employed by contractors, they won’t be eligible for makeup checks.

“My supervisor told me we won’t be getting paid,” one State Department cleaner told the Post last week, “so my bills won’t be getting paid.”

Beyond the federal labor sphere, workers across a variety of professions struggle to make ends meet.

Sol Smith, chair of liberal arts at a Southern California college, said he landed his job after earning three degrees. But with four daughters and mounting health-care costs, he said, saving just isn’t possible.

“I see no way out,” he wrote in an email to the Post. “I am 40, have built a strong career, have 17 years experience, and if something were to happen to me, my wife and kids would be homeless within a year when my life insurance ran out.”

Lani Harrison, 43, said she and her software engineer husband have trouble buying groceries after paying the $2,249 rent on their two-bedroom Los Angeles apartment. They’re raising three young kids and rely on her husband’s income, she said. Her work as a certified car seat installer earns her $40 per appointment, but the work isn’t steady.

“Each month, we have to stretch his paycheck to make things work,” she said. “We really don’t have any savings. Many months we go under.”

Sometimes, she confides in trusted friends.

“I’m often surprised that their stories are so similar to ours,” she said.

Dillon Holt, a housekeeping assistant at a Nashville hotel, said he’s down to one piece of chicken in his freezer. His checking account often hovers around zero, and he is unable to put away any money for the future or an emergency.

“I make $12.50, work 40-50 hours a week,” he said. “I still don’t have a savings account.”

Emily Webb, 38, said she works full time as an arts administrator in Columbus, Ohio, and waits tables on the side. Staying afloat each month, she said, is a precarious dance.

“It’s a scramble at the end of a paycheck to deposit my tips and make sure none of my automatic payments bounce,” said Webb, who has a master’s degree but cannot make her student loan payments.

She’s grateful to work in her field, though, and loves her job. One big financial boost, she said, awaits her at the end of 2019.

“I can finally pay off my nine-year-old car,” Webb said. “The plastic part of the back bumper was slowly sliding off the back of it. I got rear-ended by an uninsured driver two years ago, so I reattached it with zip ties.”


10 thoughts on “‘I see no way out’: Living paycheck to paycheck is disturbingly common

  1. How many of these people have $1000smart phones and make payments on used cars with high interest rates? How many of them have kids? How many buy $5coffees and eat out 3 or more meals a week? How many pay ridiculous rents so they can live in better neighborhoods? How many have jobs.that extort other people? How many overpaid for a junk education in a field that has no practical use?

    I feel bad. But people often times make bad choices and then blame others because they are not living up to their personal ability perceptions.

    How many vote? How many pay taxes willingly and would prosecute someone who chooses the other path? Their blind faith in government makes them dangerous and i have no sympathy if they perish.

    1. Ed, are you blaming the victims? I mean in some cases it is certainly true that people can make their lives better, but most everyone I know is dancin’ as fast as they can to make ends meet.

      Look at many of the wages paid. Too low to meet expenses. We’re staring at communism where nobody gets to own ANYTHING!! Except for the upper crust. Too many are tired of crumbs.

      I saw a headline the other day that said “They’re making is too expensive for people to remain in their own homes.” Sad and infuriating. And look at rents: through the roof, even in neighborhoods that aren’t splashy.

      Every day grocery prices keep rising, as does healthcare. It’s nuts. We have some folks workin’ two or three jobs just to feed their families. When I read this article I read it as a wide-spread symptom of what’s being done to us, big time.


    2. Was watching a bit of local news and they were at retailers who said THE biggest seller – and couldn’t keep in stock – was the no-contract iPhone X. At $1000+ a pop.

      WhereTF do these people get this money to spend on a phone?

      The sad part is these idiots are contributing to the downfall of this country, and SADLY, my girlfriend goes out and helps a 5-generations farmer in MI. He’s forsaken his health to keep the farm going, but then he can’t work it because of health. He struggles, the farm suffers, crops suffer……but everyone has a grand for a phone.

      ‘Exceptional’, is right.

  2. Rent is 3 times too expensive, same with cars. $70,000 for a new truck? Things are way out of hand. Eating out is like 30 dollars for one person, tip?

    You need 50 to 60 thou a year minimum….

    2 bedroom San Diego, CA. 1800 a month, insane.

    Right across the border Tijuana, 400 a month. Same thing, just as nice, right on the ocean, maybe 600 tops.

    1. “You need 50 to 60 thou a year minimum’

  3. Anyone who has spent any significant time here at the trenches knows this is absolutely by design,. The fiat currency we have is worthless, trillions are spent on foreign aid, illegals, and the military. The enemy force in occupation doesn’t want American Nations to make it, they want them dead. If they could line them all up in front of a ditch and fire machine guns, they would do so in a second, but since American Nationals are armed, they try to use cloak-n-dagger strategies to meet their objectives in the hopes of reaching their ultimate goal: one world government.

    “Anyone who has spent any significant time here at the trenches knows this is absolutely by design,. The fiat currency we have is worthless, trillions are spent on foreign aid, illegals, and the military.”

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