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Project Overview-In Search of the “New Poor”

December 30, 2010 5 comments

Welcome to Annabel’s Odyssey, the story of my trip across America in search of the “new poor”, formerly the great American Middle Class. The purpose of this trip is to create a book/documentary of the current depression. I know that the media has, for the most part, been calling the economic events since the financial melt-down of 2008 the “Great Recession”, and that they are claiming that the recovery began in June of 2009. Apparently no one notified Main Street USA of this recovery.

There are some well known economists that are calling this a depression, or at least hinting at it. Paul Krugman of the New York Times, on July 27th 2010 stated “We are now, I fear, in the early stages of a third depression.” He goes on “… unemployment — especially long-term unemployment — remains at levels that would have been considered catastrophic not long ago, and shows no sign of coming down rapidly.” People around the country are still looking for work for years sometimes, only to find a “job” that pays one tenth of what the lost job paid, not even a living wage. People that bought houses, all full of hope and belief in the American dream are being foreclosed upon, sometimes completely illegally. And the statistics that are used to calculate unemployment don’t even include self-employed people that are down by 60% or lose their businesses completely. Bankruptcies are on the rise across the country.

Now the report is that the state and local governments are being forced to dismantle the social safety net and cut services to the poor, because they too are going broke. This, just as the former middle class are turning to the system for basic needs, such as food.

I will be setting out in early January, the heart of winter, in search of the failed American Dream. I fear I will not have to look hard to find it.

I will be criss-crossing the country by bus and rideshare, couch surfing and researching the book. I will seek out and interview people that were doing fine just a few years ago, were comfortably middle class, and are now struggling to make ends meet. They may have lost a job or a house or both. Many are just a paycheck away from being homeless. The savings that were meant for retirement have been used for survival, and are almost exhausted.

Where there are strong-holds of the uber-rich along my way I will check those places out as well. The income disparity between the richest and poorest in this country has not been this great since the Gilded Age. For the uber-rich, there is no depression. In fact they are profiting from the pain of the middle class in unimaginable ways. No, this story cannot be told without including the super-rich.

If this project resonates with you, check back as I post my stories and pictures along the way. If you know someone, including yourself, with a story to tell, let me know. And if you would like to help, check out the donate button. Even five dollars will help. I sold the only asset I had left, my car, to make this happen. I hope to see you here as I check-in along the road. The first stops will be Santa Cruz and Los Angeles, then on to Phoenix and the Gulf States. Eventually I will visit every state. I hope to see you on my journey.

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So, Why is This Story Important Anyhow?

December 29, 2010 5 comments

Two questions. Why should this book be written and this story be told? And why should I be the one to write it?

First, the book should be written because it is a story with many facets and huge implications. In the last depression it was not clear to some that there was a deep intractable problem until it was well under way. It is the same in this depression. We are losing a whole class of citizens, the middle class, the one that provides the backbone of the nation. We are on the cusp of a new gilded age which is causing untold misery for millions of Americans. This is a big story, one that will be told many times and in many ways.

Second,the fact that from the point of view of the new poor it is an untold story provides the moral imperative to tell it. These people need a voice, and this book will provide it. There is a great pent up need to talk about this. The millions of people who have gone from comfortably middle class to poor have each been through a real trauma, but no one is treating it this way. This project will begin to fill this gap in the public discourse.

But, why should I write it? Because I am able to synthesize the data and run it through my mind and pour out words that are easy to read yet convey the complexity. But there is more.

I am one of the “new poor” In 2006 I had been married to a contractor in the wine country of northern California for nine years, and I was in law school getting good grades. I wanted to be an environmental lawyer. The illness and death of my husband intersected with the financial melt-down and crash. There was no money to finish law school. I sold what little was left of my former life. I started a small business to support myself, but it was like trying to dig through rock. The business was professional organizing, and I joined every networking group I could, went to meetings, perfected my pitch, and got a few clients, all of whom were pleased with my work.

A very few clients. The problem was that my potential clients were losing their corporate jobs and not only didn’t need me, they couldn’t afford me anymore. Worse yet, a not insignificant number were becoming competitors. Where organizers had been getting about $70 an hour in my area, suddenly we were lucky to get half that. I started cleaning houses, just long enough to pull out of the hole. In the end I cut all my expenses to the bone, got rid of all services except the phone, stopped going anywhere or doing anything, and started to write. It turns out I am good at this, but freelancing in tough times is even harder than it usually is. I am now looking for completely new solutions to the economic problem that work around the corporate world and mainstream markets entirely.

But, the main reason I am the right author for this book is that I am willing to write it. Which in this case means being willing to undergo a certain amount of discomfort. I am an extremely frugal traveler because I have to be. This will be a rough and tumble journey. As exciting as a road trip can be this is going to be work. But, there is that moral imperative again. There is a great and terrible thing happening to my country. If that is not enough to get me out of my comfortable chair perhaps I don’t deserve to call myself a journalist at all.