Sunday, October 5, 2008

Unemployment and debt

In and around 1980, I lost my job during a big recession. Actually, I was fired. I came home that day and cried in front of my wife and two daughters. Not my best moment. I stayed unemployed for what seemed and eternity. I was on unemployment for the first time in my life. I have a bitter memory that the TV cameras came into the waiting room at the unemployment office to film me and many other folks. We were news, I suppose. I had a Ph.D. in a university town. My specialty was an exotic topic in those days: computers. I could not find a job. Over 10% unemployment and mortgages were 13%. No kidding.

We went to see a financial councilor because we certainly had debts. In those days I had an American Express card and we had just made a trip with the family. American Express wanted it all immediately and they had very aggressive (read vile) collectors. They encouraged me to shift my debt over to Visa to get them off my back. I did that.

The financial counselor told Sarah and I to go over to the Bankruptcy court and watch the proceedings. If we thought we could do that, she thought we should consider it. My dad, who was no longer living, told me that he really, really would not approve of such a thing. Instead, when the chance to take a job 2000 miles away in California came along, I move back and left my family in Wisconsin. The plan was, of course, was for them to join me and they did. We lost the house to foreclosure. Sarah was forced to leave a job she loved. The kids were unhappy but we all got back together in Berkeley.

We rented for about 12 years until we made another move. This time, we moved to Tennessee for Sarah’s new position in Nashville. We were able to buy a house. For the 12 years until that time, we wondered how we would ever return to our own home.
But we did. We got a home again and life went on. For many years, I was always ashamed to tell this story. Now as things look dark for many people, I want to share it. We came through the dark and back to better times.