Following our Route to Recovery special report, we asked contributors from Associated Content to tell us their stories about the recession.
By M.L. Sykes.
I moved from Honolulu to Buffalo in the middle of this economic freeze to be closer to my aging parents on the East Coast. It was supposed to be a temporary breather, a departure from academia. But if jobs in higher education don’t recover soon, the recession will keep me here.
I spent 19 years in Honolulu, 11 of them at Hawaii Pacific University when I left in May. The driving forces for my departure were limited senior-level employment opportunities and the long distance to my parents. But these issues were endemic to Hawaii not the economy.
So, after 20-plus years of university work, I took a break before finding a new job. Why not travel, write and relax?
To stretch my savings for six-plus months without income, I needed a home base that was inexpensive but close to potential jobs and my parents. The sub-prime mortgage mess cost my friend his home in Florida, so he moved to his south Buffalo rental property. It’s a two-story, 1904 beauty in desperate need of maintenance. He needed rental income from a roommate, and I needed a place to live, so I now occupy the furnished downstairs unit and help with the renovations.
Buffalo, like its Rust Belt brethren, seemed to have been in recession for a long time. But over the last few years, the economy appears to have improved. Based on my observations and neighbors’ anecdotal reports, we’re seeing local revitalization and improvements in the downtown and waterfront areas after years of decay.
Our blue-collar neighborhood is perking up, too. A few years ago, you could buy a south Buffalo fixer-upper, circa 1900, for $20,000. Today, the same homes sell for $40,000. This year we’ve seen new cars, furniture, kitchens and roofs. I’ve even noticed folks with a few non-recession items: a new canoe, a bigger boat, an electric guitar. Neighbors still have their jobs. Folks I’ve talked to don’t seem worried about having cash for Christmas. Frugality and financial modesty help here. My friend and neighbors live a simpler life than I lived in Honolulu. So, that’s what I do now. Eating out, movie-going and indulgent buying don’t cut it here.
But I still need a job. It’s tough because the recession hit higher education hard. Most universities have responded with hiring freezes, layoffs and other reductions. I’ve applied to community colleges in Denver, New Jersey and just recently a college in Vermont. I never heard back from Denver and New Jersey decided not to interview me. Vermont has acknowledged my application, but I haven’t heard anything.
I never questioned getting another university position, but each passing month increases doubt. The scary part is no health insurance. I can afford a doctor visit and a prescription, but the prospect of a major medical incident is terrifying. COBRA coverage would have cost more than $600 a month, an astronomical sum with no income.
So what’s next? I’ll continue to look for academic positions; more should be available in summer. For now, the Barnes & Noble at the mall is hiring, probably for minimum wage. Maybe I should apply. They do offer health insurance.