Stressed Families: Keeping It All Together When Income Shrinks
By Chris Earl, Reporter
CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa - Dan Alpers and Amy Anderson dish out the pasta wheels and sweet potatoes on a Thursday night in their three-bedroom ranch home in Cedar Rapids.
Their three girls, Ellen, 10, Katy, 5, and Cordy, 5, nibble at the food.
Eating in just about every night is another reminder for Dan and Amy that money is still tight.
“It’s heartbreaking when we sit here and the Nickelodeon Cruise (commercial) comes on. ‘Can we do that next summer?’ one will ask and I’m like, ‘probably not’.”
Alpers and Anderson, both 34 and both with college degrees, are not unemployed. They work but in jobs that pay far less than positions they had years before.
Naional unemployment hovers about 9%, with the Iowa Workforce Development reporting a figure of 6.3% in December 2010.
Alpers, a graphic design specialist by trade, was fired last fall from a Cedar Rapids company. He said he was given three weeks severance and, in that time, found a new job in town.
Only this new job was not in graphic design. Less money. Sales. A cubicle.
“It’s not my passion. Absolutely not.”
He is very open that this new job is just a job until he returns to graphic design.
“Every day when I come home, I ask, ‘what can I do today to make myself feel fulfilled?’ because sitting on the phone trying to hawk my wares doesn’t make me feel fulfilled,” said Alpers.
Anderson rode out her career as a kitchen and bath interior designer during the boom years in the housing market. Yet as those lush years faded, Anderson said people stopped customizing their homes or started tackling the projects themselves. She said her company shut down.
Now she works at a Cedar Rapids elementary school as an “enrichment coordinator”, helping with busses, field trips and other work outside of classroom instruction. She loves the work and the contact with the kids but the job is part-time.
“It’s a great job, it’s fun and I’m passionate about it but it doesn’t pay the bills,” said Anderson.
Dan and Amy have been a couple since 2009 and have battled through the financial uncertainty of unemployment or working outside of their preferred career.
Psychologist Dick Socwell said he sees more and more clients with stress over money, not having enough of it and not being sure of how long the paychecks will continue.
“For a lot of men, particularly, that’s how we identify ourselves,” said Socwell. “There is the financial loss which is going to be stressful. Then comes anxiety, worrying, irritability and a low tolerance for frustration.”
Socwell said the loss of a job can lead to a family situation spiraling out of control within a couple of weeks.
“What are the steps I can take to maintain or gather as much as I can but keep the rest of my like okay?” Socwell recommends people in this position ask themselves.
As their three children run through the living room, Dan and Amy maintain their relationship is surviving the small victories and defeats. Amy said movie night isn’t going to a theatre but watching one of the children’s DVDs that are on the wall. “Pizza night” isn’t going out but getting a $5 pizza and eating it at home.
They both want to give their children more but Amy said the school she works at has plenty of children who qualify for free or reduced lunch. That helps her remember that, even when money is not plentiful, they still have the basics.
“We’re surviving,” she said. “But if someone is hospitalized, a water heater breaks or a car doesn’t start, we could be up a creek.”
What's On KCRG