We asked how you were doing, and you let us know — in no uncertain terms. MSNBC.com received more than 1,700 responses to an open-ended, unscientific survey about the state of the economy in early June. Here is a small sampling. (Some letters have been edited for length or clarity.)
TOUGH JOG HUNTING
We are doing [OK], but work is few and far between. I was laid off when Gateway closed its call center in Colorado Springs Jan 21, 2002. I have had one temp job and one short-term job since.
The wife was fired from MCIWorldcom in March 2001 on a workers compensation issue. Her workers comp claim was settled in October 2002, but she has not been able to find work since.
As a 45-year-old college-educated computer specialist and a 49-year-old college-educated criminologist/political scientist, we are told we are overqualified to flip burgers and for most other jobs that require little education. We have exhausted our savings, lost our good car to repossession, and are fighting to not lose our house. If I did not have my U.S. Army disability retirement, we would have no money coming in. But try to feed, house and clothe a family of three, and look for work, on less than $1,000 a month.
— Roy A. Kelly II, Pueblo, Colo.
WORKING OFF DEBT LOAD
I have decided to stop investing and pay off all my debt instead. To that effect I have obtained a second, much lower-paying job in a convenience store. I have almost stopped spending altogether aside from food, rent, etc., and I’m saving 28 percent of my monthly pay in case I’m laid off. I’m pretty sure my job is secure, but I would rather be prepared just in case.
— Steven Dristy, Jr., Fairbanks, Alaska
WORKING BUT WORRIED
I’m fortunate, not to mention incredibly grateful, to still have a job in financial services — but I don’t feel my job is secure. Even in the best of times, financial-services companies love to merge and consolidate — and lay off workers.
I watch economic indicators pretty closely, and unemployment figures in particular. The result is that I’m not spending at all. (I’ve postponed having the exterior of my house painted for another year.) Instead, I’m saving a year’s worth of salary in case I get laid off. And I have a free-lance writing business that I work at on the weekends and on vacation time — just in case.
So I work all the time and save all the time. It’s not much fun — but it sure helps me deal constructively with the anxiety of a lousy job market.
— Harriet Crosby, Oakland, Calif.
ADVANCED DEGREES BUT NO JOB
I am 33 years old and spent the last eight years pursuing higher education. In 2001, I graduated cum laude with a B.S. in economics and finance, and in May 2003 I graduated with an M.S. in applied economics. My employment with the university was completed when I graduated.
I have submitted my resume to employment opportunities that require a Ph.D., those that only require a G.E.D. and everything in between. I have had one phone interview and one in-person interview. Neither materialized, and now I am staring at the possibility of being homeless with a ton of debt. The irony is that I always thought that achieving a master’s degree would be a testimony to perseverance, and the principles of meritocracy would award me accordingly. The reality is seemingly anticlimactic.
— Ric Powell, Richardson, Texas
A LITANY OF LAYOFFS
I lost my job in November 2000 when Tyco closed our Mallinckrodt, Mo. plant. I worked contract jobs for close to 18 months before landing a full-time permanent job.
I was recently laid off again on May 1, 2003, from my new job after being there a year. I hadn’t been able to recover from the first layoff, so things are much worse this time.
My son and I are looking at losing our [health] insurance because the Cobra will take 75 percent of the unemployment. We do not qualify for food stamps or public aid because I would have to cash in my 401(k), and at 48 years old I think that this would be a big mistake. I am scared to death of what will happen.
I don’t think that the politicians are going to care what happens to my family or the other unemployed workers until they need our vote and after getting it will go back to no longer caring.
— Linda Rose, Florissant, Mo.
JOBS SEEN SCARCE
The company I worked for, Metals USA, filed Chapter 11 in November of 2001. In September of last year, our location was sold off and the new owners retained very few of the office staff. I was the purchasing manager and was not retained. I have been unemployed ever since.
I’ve sent out resumes every week since. I’ve been on one interview in all that time. I find that the hiring employers can be VERY selective and the odds of being picked for a job are very slim.
I will be 50 in July. I am a divorced woman, living in a condo on $329 a week. It’s not hard to figure out just exactly how tight money is. I will be out of unemployment compensation in about two weeks. And my savings, which I have been using to supplement the unemployment, is gone. I have NO idea what I will do.
— Marg Rettler, West Bend, Wis.
We have a small business here, and we are in our seventh year of operations. Business has declined somewhat since late 2001. So we really watch expenses and shop around for product. We don’t spend unless absolutely necessary. I feel that our jobs are fairly secure at the moment.
Personally I’m saving and spending. We maximize our (retirement savings), save for daughter’s college as well as pay a little extra each month on our mortgage. We do not pay any credit card interest.
We started really buying into mutual funds in the late ’90s — right at the peak. But we are in for the long term, so I just keep buying monthly and think positive. We are spending on home renovations now because we just purchased our home.
— Liz Skagen, Calgary, Alberta
Up until July 2002, I worked as a consultant in the information technology arena. I was earning $70 per hour at that time. Today I work on a help desk for $14.78 per hour. We have borrowed close to $80,000 in the past 10-1/2 months just trying to keep the bill collectors at bay and a roof over our heads.
What few investments we had have been liquidated at a loss, just to pay bills. Saving today has become a luxury. And as far as a nest egg is concerned, that omelet was served months ago.
— Mark Ricci, Cold Spring, NY
FINANCIAL CAR WRECK
I am a 20-year-old collision repairman who is suffering from this slow economy and as a result had to move out of my apartment and move back home with my parents. I have been out of work for four months now and see no sign of recovery. I have been to several interviews, and filled out more than 50 applications but have received fewer than 10 callbacks.
— Adam Norwood, Chandler, Ariz.
GOD BLESS AMERICA
It hasn’t affected me at all. I am a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel, 78 years old, with a combined before-tax income of $101,000 per year, and this is just for breathing. This comprises my retired pay, full Social Security, including my wife’s, and her retirement as a teacher.
I was a stockbroker for 28 years after retirement from the military, retiring from this business last year. I am totally out of the market and plan to stay out. We are saving a little more than $3,000 a year. My advice to young teenagers: Study, get good grades, graduate from college and join the ROTC or attend a service academy. A military career affords retirement benefits unequaled anywhere except the U.S. Congress.
Of course you have an obligation to serve and put your life at risk in the defense of your country. What better or more honorable career could any man or woman aspire to?
— Carl A. Group, Centennial, Colo.