Personal stories of life after the economic meltdown

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Courtesy Kerri Feazell

Kerri Feazell from Monrovia was fired from a fundraising job in April.

The past year has been hard on many in Southern California. Here are some personal stories from people in KPCC’s Insight Network of news sources.

California’s unemployment rate is at 11.9 percent. That means lost jobs, of course, but also anxiety among the majority who still have jobs, and people settling for jobs that are below their experience and education. For many it means lifestyle changes, and a re-working of our own identities as workers and consumers.

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Pamela Ezell, Los Angeles: "We've experienced just about every 'headline' on a personal basis: I lost my job five months ago and have only had one interview even after several months of applications – and lots of 'personal' contacts, despite being qualified or even over-qualified for positions; we lost health insurance and have been without insurance for several months; we put our kids in public school and public recreation programs versus private school and private programs; and we're trying (unsuccessfully) to renegotiate our mortgage so we don't lose our home to foreclosure.

"We’ve simplified, streamlined, and stopped buying. We are super thrifty! We've also had yard sales, sold furniture on Craigslist, We now get more books at the library versus book stores. We eat out a lot less – going out for ice cream versus going out for dinner. We turned off cable TV. But, the kids and I were able to go to New York to visit family and friends during the summer, so we've put what money we have into different priorities.

"I think our kids (10 and 12) are going to be the next 'greatest generation' – the people who grew up during the depression and World War II. Their generation has a lot facing them: economic restructuring, two wars, America's next iteration as a 'super power.' We will always be more conservative and thrifty in the future. We'll probably always be more conservative than we were before regarding money – and I never saw us as extravagant. We don't have big screen TVs, boats, fancy cars. Even our former modest lifestyle looks too big from here."

Kerri Feazell, Monrovia: She was fired from a fundraising job in April. “Staying optimistic after rejection is difficult at times. Getting fired and jumping through the hoops of almost getting other jobs is exhausting and an emotional roller coaster. Looking at minimum wage jobs after being a respected professional sucks. I'm trying to believe there's a reason for everything but it's still a blow to my ego.”

With capital from her partner (he’s a successful casting agent) she’s co-founding a nonprofit called Project LACE to help abandoned children. She’s also doing freelance consulting on nonprofit fundraising.

“Making a difference in other people's lives is a priority. I'm becoming a hippie idealist again and I like myself better! I don't want my financial situation to get 'better' in terms of making more money. I want to be happy with less material things and have less responsibility to maintaining material possessions.”

The housing market

Housing prices have fallen sharply in the past year, leading some to finally see a buyer’s market after years of fast-escalating prices, but some would-be homeowners are still encountering obstacles.

Heather Parker, Burbank: “We have been looking for a home to buy in Santa Clarita for three to four months. There is very little inventory out there right now. We are making offers of $40,000 to $50,000 over the asking price and still coming in third!

“Foreclosure notices keep going up, but the product is not hitting the market. The moratoriums (on foreclosures) and other government tinkering in the marketplace is creating a false 'seller's market' in the midst of record foreclosures. Interest rates are great! Inventory is too low. We are hoping that things will cool off a bit as summer comes to an end and the first-time home buyer credit expires in November... and we hope it does not get extended.”

Eddie Hong, Los Angeles: "I have been looking for a home to purchase for about a year now. I have offered on three to four properties but to no avail."

He says the worst aspect of trying to buy now is “getting through the maze of shady and dishonest real estate agents. One of my experiences I have had was when a buyer and his agent approached me to pay $10,000 to the seller to accept my offer on a short sell. Of course I declined, but after talking with various people, I find that this practice is very prevalent in the current real estate market.”

Roxanna Godinez, Los Angeles: She lives downtown and has worked in real estate for 16 years. She wants to buy a house but says banks are balking at closing on real estate offers and have imposed much stricter lending standards.

“Banks were freely giving loans away for the past five years, and now after receiving bailout money, they are not lending as they are supposed to. There are qualified, prudent buyers that want to take advantage of owning a home and lenders are making it very difficult for them to get a property. They have changed all the guidelines and unless you have [a] 750 credit score and 20 percent down [it] is almost impossible to get a mortgage.

“The worst things about financing right now: appraisals are being done by inexperienced people, who do not do the proper adjustments or do not even drive (to the comparable properties), bringing values down considerably. I've been contacting almost everyone I can about the situation with the lenders and I feel that I am just knocking my head against the wall.

“I don't think anything the Obama Administration has done so far has helped at all. The banks got bailout money and most of them are now reporting profits, they are charging higher interest rates, they are slow on working out short sales, and when it comes to doing loans they look for any excuse to deny the loans.”

Education

When the state budget gets cut because property, sales, and other tax revenues are down, schools get cut back, too. This means teachers and other school staffers lose jobs. Meanwhile, state universities are furloughing employees, cutting staff positions, and considering fee increases. Students can’t count on the classes and teaching assistant jobs they need being available.

Rita Shah, Oceanside: She is pursuing a doctorate degree in criminology but might have to drop out due to funding and tuition changes at UC Irvine. “I don't know if my school will be able to cover my graduate school fees. If they can't, I can't afford to do it on my own, but that means losing my health insurance and access to student loans since I won't be enrolled full-time.

“On top of that, temp agencies don't have any openings and neither do local community colleges, so I have no means of making an income to pay my living expenses. If I stay and try to pay my fees myself, I end up taking out almost double the loans necessary so I can pay both fees and living expenses. I'm hoping this will change next year if I am lucky enough to get a large grant, and I plan on going on the job market so I will hopefully have a real salary in two years.”

Medical and dental care, insurance:

Odetta Moore, Los Angeles: She works at a small business that provides her with a Kaiser health insurance plan, but she can only afford the $380 or so monthly cost to keep one of her three children insured. She couldn’t afford to put the other two children on her employer’s insurance plan, which charges by the number of kids, she says.

Every year, when it’s time to renew the plan, she says she has to decide which child most needs to be insured that year. Her other two children, ages 2 and 12, are uninsured and on the waiting list for Healthy Families, a state subsidized insurance program. However, that program was cut this year, and she doesn’t know if her children will be covered.

Diane Limbo, Garden Grove: She runs a dental clinic that had a state contract to provide dental care to children. “For many years California has participated in a school-based dental program that touched over 300,000 young children. It provided education and dental services including exams, cleanings, fluoride varnish, and sealants to eligible students. Education was provided to the teachers, parents, and children by dedicated staff who for years worked to provide oral health access to these underserved populations.

“With the budget cut of the California Children's Dental Disease Prevention Program (CCDDPP) young children will lose these disease prevention services. In addition, with the loss of access to health care insurance through the Healthy Families programs, children again are the victims, losing access to both medical and oral health care preventions that in the long run are cost effective in reducing disease cost management.

“The result is that we are creatively looking for ways to provide these services with priority to those schools with greatest need, and only to lower grade children.”

Frank Ware, Yorba Linda: "A whole segment of the population has been left out of the insurance/medical coverage question. I am the parent of an adult son who is afflicted with cerebral palsy, triplegia, with some developmental delays. He lives in an apartment in a program that provides staff to assist with some of his basic living needs and receives some IHSS hours for support.

"Because of the state of California cutbacks, the program had to close their on-site office to contain costs. Many activities now have to be based out of the main office which is miles away. He shares the apartment with a roommate also afflicted with cerebral palsy and works in a sheltered workshop, as does his roommate. Because of the cuts to Medi-Cal, he has been directly affected.

"Many parents who have adult children afflicted with a myriad of developmental and physical challenges are themselves reaching retirement age or are already retired. As hard as it is, many of the parents have taken on additional responsibilities and are doing their best. Who speaks for these adults who seem to be forgotten and in many cases cannot speak for themselves?"

General anxiety about the financial future

Sharey Wang, Beverly Hills: She works as a partner at a CPA firm, yet this financial crisis has left her feeling bad about the future. She’s saving as much as she can, and buying much less.

“It has affected me for the worse, mostly my outlook for the future. Financially, everyone is affected from the standpoint of our 'perceived wealth.' The values of our investment portfolio, 401(k) plan, and our homes have all been reduced significantly.

"With the country going into the direction of 'if you are wealthy, you have to help your fellow men,' I felt that those who have strived to achieve more in life will be punished because of their success and I feel resentful about that. The future, in my mind, can be summed up in one sentence: Work harder, get paid less, and pay more taxes, and there's no guarantee that I'll have enough to retire on."

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