Friday will be my mom's last day at the insurance office before she's officially laid off. She's picked up one extra shift per week at the pizzeria. She's also hoping to sub more when people want off, but it may be a while before she can get any more regular hours. That wasn't great news, but it would have been manageable.
Then I instant messaged my brother shortly before he left for his job as a pizza cook. He informed me that my father's job situation will be changing as well. For several years, my father worked fifty hours a week. He was on salary so he didn't get time and a half, but he did get paid for the extra ten hours. Then they cut him back to forty hours a week. That was ok with him, partly because for quite a while they let him work it in four ten hour shifts and take most Fridays off.
There's been instability at my father's company for some months now, with restructuring that resulted in almost everyone else in my father's department getting laid off. This is a pretty terrible time to work for an OEM for the automotive industry. When people don't buy cars, automakers don't need to buy the parts from which cars are built. The situation isn't improving. As a result, my mechanical engineer father will be going from a salaried position to an hourly one and having his hours cut again to thirty hours a week.
He still has a job. That much is good. I haven't called home yet so I don't have the answers to other pressing questions. Does he still get health insurance? Is this the next step before my father's company collapses entirely and everyone is laid off? Are my parents panicking? I certainly am.
It looks like I might be the only person in my immediate family with a normal full-time job with benefits for a while. (I'm not sure whether my brother's hours at the pizza place add up to forty hours a week or not, but I know he doesn't make enough to be totally self-supporting. My parents are paying for health and car insurance, at least.) My parents have savings, but they are relying on those to be there for retirement.
I'm trying to run through survival strategies for the worst case scenarios. I think I'll be offered another annual contract at my school district; recent conversations with my assistant principal indicated that she certainly expects me to be around another year. I don't flatter myself that it's because I'm seen as particularly dedicated or talented. They have a very hard time finding warm bodies with teaching licenses to put in front of the classrooms around here.
If I can get through one more year, I can complete the pedagogy tests and Praxis III observations to move from a provisional license to a standard five-year teaching license. I plan to complete the additional tests to get licensed in mathematics as well so I can leave here licensed to teach any science or math course for students in grades seven through twelve in my state. That would likely enable me to find a position in a district in my parents' part of the state, move in with them, and help pay for their living expenses if they are faced with prolonged unemployment.
Somehow none of that is very comforting. School is getting better gradually overall, but there are still far too many days that push me dangerously close to my breaking point. If I felt confident that I could find a job for the next year that would enable me to be self-supporting, even if it meant being a cashier at Wal-Mart, I might seriously consider it just to get away from the constant stress. However, in this economy, finding employment of any kind isn't a given. I also really don't want to move home and try to take care of my parents; deferring my dreams by delaying graduate school further for the sake of filial duty might be the right thing to do, but that doesn't mean I wouldn't feel deeply disappointed.
I know this is middle class whining. I have it very, very good. I not only have a roof over my head, I have a room of my own. I'm not having to choose between buying medicine and food. I didn't have to go to work full-time at age fourteen to help support my parents and siblings. I have a job, an emergency fund, and no debts. I have no inherent right to find self-fulfillment, to go spend years learning more about E&M and quantum mechanics while trying to unravel the mysteries of life. Whatever happens, I'll have little choice but to find some way to cope. That doesn't mean I'm happy right now.