About Me

Twenty years ago I asked a Tarot card reader what would I be doing when I was 50. She replied, “I see you doing something so wildly creative, it defies a job title.” Only recently did I realize that was a slick way of saying, “I have no idea of what you’ll be doing.” But that prediction kept me charging ahead to the fifties with zeal and anticipation. Now that the future is today, I’m ready for anything!

Living on the Economic Edge

If you're a person who attempted to write a book in the pre-computer era, you'll know what I mean.

Did you ever have a book chapter that languished in your desk drawer, a chapter that you just didn’t know what to do with?

Change “desk drawer” to “draft folder” and “chapter” to “blog” and you’re describing my current dilemma.

I’ve had the beginnings of a blog on my dashboard called Food Stamp Confidential: An Exposé of Life on the Economic Edge. It’s a place where I’ve lived, especially in the last few months. Not too many people are willing to talk about financial stress because of the belief it’s their own fault: they didn’t work hard enough, weren’t smart enough. Because people don’t talk about financial hardship, it’s not big on the collective radar. And when it is, it’s something that happens to some other group of people. Not to people like you and me.

The Middle Sixty Percent
My husband Mike and I have joked that we’ve always lived as if a recession were going on, even in the 1990s. Dan Williams, program director of Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota Financial Counseling, calls this population “the middle sixty percent.” Working families making from $15,000 to $70,000 a year, just getting by when the economy was thriving, and hit hard when the economy nosedived. Over the years our family has experienced a steady drip-drip-drip of increasing property taxes, health insurance premiums, fuel prices. A dry well here and a job loss there and the drip-drip-drip turned into the perfect storm.

I chose the blog title Food Stamp Confidential because I liked the tawdry feel of it, calling to mind a 1950s tabloid. The title isn't literally true in my case because I'm not on food stamps. (I've applied but didn't qualify.) The term "food stamps" is a metaphor for poverty and need, difficult things to write about. My drafts folder is filled with posts that remain unpublished because they convey a moroseness I don't feel.
I don’t feel poor or in need, nor do I define myself by the prefix un- or the suffix –less. I do define myself as a survivor. Like when Scarlett O’Hara strode into a post Civil–War era wearing green velvet finery that in its previous life was a set of draperies.
Living on the edge means feeling flush one day and doing a Dukes of Hazzard–type bank run the next. The bumps in the road jolt you harder but the joys feel sweeter—and there are joys. Finding a $20 bill in a purse you haven't used in months. A mechanic who devises a just-as-good Plan B that results in a cheaper repair bill. (You reciprocate, of course, with cookies.) A customer service representative who says, "I'll work with you.'"

Treading Water
What finally tipped our family over the economic edge was $4-a-gallon gas in 2008. Treading water for over two years takes a lot out of you. So does not talking about it. And now that gas is once again headed for $4 a gallon, I suspect more households will be in the same situation. Feeling isolated, wondering what they did wrong. Reading this story and realizing, “Hey, it’s not just me.” Knowing that in economic uncertainty there is company. Plenty of it.

In June 2010, U.S. Senator Al Franken held a Wall Street reform field hearing in Minneapolis. Individuals including a small business owner and a self-employed contractor testified on how the recession affected them. The UpTake livestreamed the hearing. Dan Williams of Lutheran Social Service was at the hearing, and his testimony is from 7:15 to 11:32. Watch the video here


  1. So true- we in the "middle sixty", even though we may not be in danger of losing a home or a job, are really getting nickled and dimed to death. Financial stress is something I've been reluctant to write about on my blog, for the reasons you mentioned. "It shouldn't happen to good, smart people like me, right?" And financial stress is one of the hardest issues to deal with in a marriage.

  2. You are so right, Deb. There are many blogs where people disclose about an addiction or a behavioral disorder, but fewer where people disclose about finances. Knowing that others are in the same boat can help. The writings of Felisa Rogers on salon.com helped “unmuzzle” me. (URL: http://dir.salon.com/topics/felisa_rogers/)


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