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domelargeIllustration by:Jan Feindt

Editor’s note:This post was guest blogged by Dan Tanner of dan-ruth-tanner.com

The New York Times today had an article entitled “Trickledown Downsizing” talking about how, in the current recession, those who had hired domestic help were being forced to lay that help off. I noticed immediately that the first layoff mentioned involved a woman from Dominica.

I personally know of three Dominicans residing in the US who could face the same thing. One works as a nanny, the two others make their living in home renovations. The two in the renovation field don’t have regular long-term jobs with families as do domestics, but with incomes down, job insecurity up, and credit tight, their prospects for renovation contracts are severely dimmed.

Worse, all three of these hard workers are not legally entitled to live or work in the US. Thus, they’re worse off than even the legal working poor laid-off in the US, because they can’t claim unemployment insurance, food stamps, etc. without risking deportation. If things get worse for them in the US, although they had once not only supported themselves but also had rent money home to help their families, they may decide to return to Dominica and instead rely on their families for a place to live. At least you can’t easily starve in Dominica, and you certainly can’t freeze.

History repeats. My natural father arrived in the US from Hungary, a teenager with his family fleeing Nazi persecution, only to struggle with the Great Depression. My mother’s family came to America from Austria under the same circumstances, with my mother’s father previously having had to become an exile from Belarus, his birthplace because of tsarist anti-semitic pogroms. They did not have the option of return open to them. My adoptive father emigrated to the US from Switzerland to work on rich peoples’ estates as a landscaper and gardener, and the life savings he built up were lost in a depression-era bank failure. He could have returned to his homeland, but his first wife was too ill to make the trip. They stayed, she died, World War II intervened, he met my recently-divorced mother, they married, and so on.

I can’t say that everything happens for the best. We all are victims of circumstances, carried in the stream by forces larger than any of us — depressions, recessions, wars, life-and-death, chance meetings. We must simply all make do. I’m writing this two days before we move to Dominica to live in retirement. We were lucky to have sold our house in the US (although it would have fetched more a few years ago, and took longer to sell), and our invested savings, upon which we will depend on for old-age income, are worth perhaps 60% of what they were a year or two ago, at least we can make the move. In old age, recovery isn’t available.

At least the lessons my wife learned from her parents and which I also learned from mine and my adoptive father too set us up well enough to get by. They taught us to be thrifty; to know the difference between what we need and what we want, and between what we could afford and what we could not. They also taught us that education was a way out of poverty and upward through economic class; that is something that we could always use, which would become more valuable through experience and wisdom gained, and which we could pass to our children, share, sell, or give away yet leave us richer, not poorer.

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2 Comments »

Comment by Suki
2008-12-12 16:24:59

It is true that our current economic times will affect everyone in some way but perhaps it is an opportunity to as Dan says, “to know the difference between what we need and what we want, and between what we could afford and what we could not.” It is an opportunity to be more creative about how we entertain ourselves, to go for a walk and appreciate our surroundings to enjoy both preparing and eating a home cooked meal as a family. It is an opportunity to rediscover the library versus buying a host of books that will do no more than collect dust in our homes. It is an opportunity to rediscover the value in simply saving. On a personal note, in the past I was considered at best cheap and a little out of touch with my minimalist lifestyle, in the past couple of months I have been called a genius – go f 😀 igure.

 
Comment by Dan
2008-12-12 17:00:35

Thanks for agreeing Suki. My family always placed a high value on books, but now there’s the Internet.

There is a vast difference between “cheap” and “thrifty”. A family story on the subject: My oldest uncle finally made good and owned three furniture stores. Family members would borrow from him for important things — a car down-payment, a doctor bill, etc. He would always ask what the loan was for, explaining that as a brother he would not collect if a sibling could not pay; it was not a gift and repayment was expected, but would not be extracted. His youngest brother asked for a loan, and in response to the usual inquiry, replied that he wanted to buy a TV for his family. The older brother refused the loan, saying that a TV is a want not a need, and the family could read books, tell stories, have hobbies, take walks, play games or make music, etc. for entertainment.

My family (we were not the one asking for that loan) did those things together. And when I had a family, we read to our child every day. That is a very important thing to do. It shows the value of education and how to get information (one must read off the Web too). Our daughter had a full adademic scholarship to college, graduated cum laude, completed her master’s degree and is now a teacher.

Read! Read! Read! is my advice.

 
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