All you need to know about how the Great Recession affected Kay Rapholtz
is that it forced to her into becoming a professional behind-cleaner for three years.
Don’t worry, this story has a mostly happy ending.
But it got pretty ugly, for a long time.
And it shows that, for many Americans living in the “middle class,” is little more than living above a trap door that can fall out from beneath you at a moment’s notice.
In February 2009, Rapholtz was laid off from her job at a non-profit drug treatment center.
She’d worked there as a counselor for four years.
She’d actually been laid off from a factory position when the economy went to pot in 2001.
But she’d gone back to school to earn a two-year degree in human services, and didn’t expect to be out of work again.
“I thought a job in the drug and alcohol field — we definitely had people who needed our help, all the time,” she says. “I didn’t think it was a field where I ever had to worry about being downsized or losing my job. I thought, ‘This is job security.’ “
Thanks to budget cuts at funding sources her agency depended on, including the state of Ohio, Rapholtz and two other employees were laid off.
To make matters worse, the news came two weeks after she underwent gall bladder surgery.
“I was pretty devastated. I was a single parent, I was already stretched thin with health payments, and I really wondered what we were going to do at that point,” she says. “There were not a lot of jobs in that area — it had been heavily hit by the economy — northwest Ohio really took a blow during the downturn. So of course I was worried, I was scared, I was hurt.”
The bad news wasn’t over though.
The same week, she learned she would be laid off, Rapholtz learned the bank was suing to foreclose on her home.
She admits she didn’t do her full due diligence on the lease, which was not usually her custom.
She’d gone in on a $US100,000 home, thinking her monthly payment would only be $US675.
But she says her mortgage broker was not upfront with her about the final costs, including mortgage insurance and having to pay for upkeep of the private road she was on.
“I was told one figure, and when I actually got the papers, it was like, ‘This is much more than I thought, how did this number come up?’
It was like, ‘This is much more than I thought, how did this number come up?’
“I was like, ‘Well, I wish that had been explained before.’
“But at that point, the people I was buying the house from had made an offer, they were already in the process of moving. I just felt like I couldn’t back out.”
She’d managed to hang on to the house for two years, but losing the job meant there was no way to fight the foreclosure.
She and her children moved into a nearby apartment.
For four-and-a-half months, she collected unemployment, looking for a job every day while supporting her two teenage children.
Eventually she got an offer: she could earn $US9 an hour at a home-care agency looking after a “profoundly” disabled youngster.
Only the graveyard shift was available — 11 pm to 7 am.
And it was 55 miles from her home.
As a committed social worker, she didn’t mind the most pungent part.
But she really had no other choice.
“It was physically very difficult, there was some lifting involved,” she says. “I always told myself that I would never ever work at a job where I had to wipe bottoms for a living
I always told myself that I would never ever work at a job where I had to wipe bottoms for a living.
, and that was certainly part of the job, although not as difficult as I thought. So there are a lot of things I never thought I’d have to do that I did during that job.
“Caregiving is extremely stressful.”
Congratulations, you’ve now reached one of the worst points of Kay Rapholtz life.
Now it gets a little better.
Around the time she signed onto the caretaker gig, she met a local priest on an online dating site.
A year they were married.
“I’m always very self-sufficient, so I didn’t get married to take anything off my back. But I was looking for somebody.”
For three years, Rapholtz worked the midnight shift on the disabled boy.
It finally wore her out.
With her husband’s encouragement, she decided she would quit to go back to school and complete her bachelor’s degree.
She was accepted into Defiance College, and is now a senior.
She says she doesn’t mind being the person in the classroom with the most life experience, though it helps that most of the other students are already 22, she said.
“I expected a lot of immaturity, but they’re mature, they’re aware of what’s going on in the world.”
Life is not perfect.
She now must contend with a foreclosure on her credit score, and has taken on student loans.
But the worst is behind her.
She plans to get her Master’s in social work.
She’s also getting a co-author credit in a forthcoming book about women who’ve persevered through crises.
Still, two things are clear to her.
First, she would not have made it without unemployment insurance.
“My children and I would have probably had to have gone to a homeless shelter. This kept me in my own home where I could take care of my children. I was earnestly looking for a job, and I did take the first job I was offered.”
She also knows she’s lucky.
“There are people all over — I know several people who lost homes during the recession, people who worked all of their lives and had always paid bills, always been responsible. Then, because of the economy or a major illness, they lost their homes.”