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The www.FedPrimeRate.com Personal Finance Blog and Magazine

Thursday, April 16, 2009

A Family Affair: How Economic Crisis Can Truly Hit Home

The state of the nation's economy is a bit enigmatic; on one hand, an 8.5% national unemployment rate still means that there is a 91.5% employment rate, so the economic outlook is obviously not all bad, despite the doom and gloom reported by the media. However, the 8.5% and those who love them are seeing some of the worst economic times facing Americans since the Great Depression. Millions of Americans are tightening their belts, but the 8.5% are losing their shirts, and when they do, many of them have to call on family and friends to help. According to the Wall Street Journal, rising costs are causing many Americans, even those with jobs, to begin moving in with family and friends, even elderly parents, just to keep their heads above water.

I ought to know; I have a sibling living with me for that very reason.

One of my sisters knows the hardships of the economic downturn, and even the dark side of financial despair. Less hours at work and an almost non-existent job market meant that she had to find other ways to make money. She lived alone and was always very independent, so she didn't like asking for help. So unfortunately, like many other Americans facing economic hardship, my sister turned to crime. She had some brushes with the law when she was young, and desperation caused her to be tempted to revert to her old ways. One minute she was living in a nice suburban townhouse, and the next she was calling to cry on my shoulder because she was losing it all. She had even taken advantage of one of our older relatives who allowed her to get a cell phone on her account. In an inside job gone bad, she ordered over 30 phones in 4 months for resale, and ended up on the hook for all of them. She was supposed to get coupons from an employee of the wireless company so that she could make a profit by buying the phones for a reduced price and selling them at close to retail. The employee stiffed her on the coupons, and she couldn't manage to save the money that was supposed to pay for the phones in the first place. So, she racked up a total wireless bill of $12,000 in someone else's name because her world was spiraling out of control. My sister does not do drugs or alcohol, and she does not have a gambling problem. She turned to fraud to pay her rent and buy groceries.

I know that many of you may find it easy to judge her and may even be eager to judge me for taking her into my home. However, the fact of the matter is that it is difficult to say what you won't do when you feel like your back is against the wall and you stand to lose everything that you have worked for. The family member sought legal advice and is working to protect herself, and my sister is going to pay the entire debt. All of it. However, she won't be able to do it alone. The problem was that she could not survive on her own with the income that she was making, so unless I wanted to see her drown, my husband and I had to step in.

For those of you who are still questioning my sanity, know that she is under strict rules living here; she has chores, my husband has to manage her income, and she cannot have a car or any company that we do not approve. We have small children, so she also babysits. Despite what you might think, the situation is actually working out. There were some tense moments and misunderstandings during the first month as we all got adjusted to the new living arrangement, but now that my sister has stopped blaming others for her circumstances, eaten a slice of humble pie, and begun to understand that we are sincerely trying to help her change her life, she has gotten with the program. It's kind of like a drug rehab, except for someone who makes poor financial decisions. It's hard enough surviving with poor decision making skills in a stable economy; when the chips are down, only the strong survive. In the absence of great mental and emotional strength and a resourceful spirit, a declining economy can ruin some of the best of us, so those who already have questionable living skills are just hardship cases just waiting to happen. However, with a little help from our friends (homage to Joe Cocker), even the worst of us can make a turnaround.

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