We recently looked at ten measures of economic growth to help answer the question “are we better off than we were four years ago?” (See our story here). But our initial coverage was missing one critical component: you.
After all, facts and figures only tell one side of the story; our collective experiences fill in the rest. So, to help us paint a more complete picture of the past four years, we asked you about your personal finances now compared to four years ago. Is your employment situation better or worse? How are your investments performing? Are you spending more or less on groceries and gas?
We received 5,570 responses, and, yes, we read every single one of them. Several predominant themes emerged: the long-term unemployed, people of all ages and income levels trying to keep up with the rising cost of living, investors who recouped their losses since the crash of 2008, and small business owners who are both struggling and thriving in the Obama economy.
More than three-quarters of respondents were over the age of 50, including a quarter who were 65 years and older. They were also predominantly male (65%), had completed at least some college, and made more than $25,000 a year.
Their stories -- which may very well resemble your story or the challenges facing your family, friends, neighbors, and colleagues in your community – are alternately heartbreaking and uplifting. Read on to discover how your fellow Americans’ lives have changed throughout the last four years.
The long-term unemployed and under-employed are losing hope.
“I have been unemployed for two years now as of October 1, 2012. Getting ready to lose what little bit I have, including a place to live. Have no hope as of right now for the future.” (male, age range: 50-65 years old, level of education: 2-year college graduate, annual income: $10,000-$25,000)
"I am a divorced, 56-year-old female, and I have been laid off twice in the last four years. Will be living in a shelter by Christmas.” (female, 50-65 years old, some college, $25,000-$50,000)
"I have been unemployed since 2009, and have not been able to get work for more than minimum wage.” ( male, 50-65 years old, 4-year college grad, $25,000-$50,000)
"16 months of unemployment cost me everything. I am underwater in my home.” (male, 50-65 years old, some college, $100,000-$250,000)
"I went from a successful professional to broke. I am homeless now and going through a divorce. I apply for jobs at Macys, Stanley Steamer, Home Depot and get turned away because of my past success working on Wall Street. I am bitter and have no faith things will turn around.” (male, 30-49 years old, 4-year college grad, $10,000-$25,000)
Older respondents in particular are struggling in this job market.
“I have been unemployed for almost 2 years. I stand in line at job fairs with other over-50's, competing for the same few jobs. Until this past year, I owned my own home. My only remaining asset is a vastly depleted IRA. I survive only because I married someone. When it comes to retirement, what am I to do?” (female, 50-65 years old, 4-year college grad, $25,000-$50,000)
"I am unemployed and on unemployment right now, but I start school in January at 54-years-old to add education to my career experience. Hopefully, when I get done in about six months, I will be able to pay for the expenses of having two teenagers, 15 and 17, graduate, drive, and hopefully go to college." (female, 50-65 years old, high school/GED, $25,000-$50,000)
"I am 62 and recently lost my job. I had been working as an interior designer for the past 18 years, earning $50,000/year, plus commission. Now, there are no jobs to apply for, and, at my age, I fear I will never work again." (female, 50-65 years old, some college)
Then there are those who, while happy to have a job, lament that they are indeed worse off – either in a lower-paying field or “stuck” in the same position as four years ago with no raises but longer hours.
"My husband lost his professional high paying job of 32 years. He now works for one-fifth the pay at a retail store." (female, 50-65 years old, 4-year college grad, $10,000-$25,000)
"Four years ago, my husband made $56,000. Last year, he made $10,020. He has applied for over 250 jobs with no success." (female, 30-49 years old, 2-year college grad, $25,000-$50,000)
"My wife just got a job after being laid-off for two years. She’s doing same thing she was for the last ten years, only for $10.00/hour less. My job makes in a week, what I used to in a day. We used to be comfortable. Now, we have no credit, have lost two rental units, and don't always eat three meals a day. I still have hope, but I have had all the change I can stand." (male, 65+ years old, some college)
"Lost my job in 2010. Fortunately, obtained another in 2011 but for $25,000 less in salary and fewer benefits. Lost my house, now renting. Had excellent credit, now it's bad. I am a single parent, and we live paycheck to paycheck." (female, 30-49 years old, 4-year college grad, $25,000-$50,000)
"I, a college graduate, have taken on a part-time evening job as a janitor at a nearby school to help make ends meet, as well as to get into their health benefit plan which costs me just shy of $900.00 per month. I have been trying to find employment in my field, but the home-building business is basically dead. I also have my age against me. I fear where I might be in a few years if the economy doesn't take a turn for the better. At the present time, we are merely treading water and living week-to-week... compared to about 5-6 years ago when our yearly income was more than double what it is now." (male, 50-65 years old, 4-year college grad, $25,000-$50,000)