Portraits of an Economy is a project by Rebecca Woolf to create a picture of how people around the country and around the world are dealing with the economic crisis.
This was my submission:
Portrait: Greenville, North Carolina
I'm an undergraduate student at East Carolina University. This year was a year of firsts for me in the adult financial world: my first W2, my first (and may I say small…) tax return, my savings account disappearing because it was empty for so long, my voicemail box overflowing from the landlord desperate for rent money, my first $500 in credit card debt. I don't consider any of these things products of the economical crisis – they're experiences everyone goes through when they are on their own for the first time; however, as of late, this worldwide money thing I've been hearing about has finally become apparent.
Everything seemed normal before the winter break. Stores were open, the university had plans to build a new student center, and there were rumors the city was finally going to get 3G cell towers. I went to my parent's for the three-week vacation, and somehow missed the downhill transformation. While I was stuffing my face with homemade pecan pie and running around the farm where I grew up, five of the big chain stores in town closed their doors, the university put off the student center plans for at least a year, and the promised 3G was pushed back until June (and I'm sure the day will come when I break down and get an iPhone, at which point I will actually care).
Even though seeing huge, empty stores is somewhat surreal and walking into the student center that became outdated ten years ago is something we all have to deal with, life here isn't that bad. The mall just upgraded to a new management company that promises to bring bigger and better stores (even though it will probably take much longer now), and Fresh Market just popped up, which is odd since fresh organics are way overpriced, and most people I know went there once and never went back.
ECU's transit system, which is one of the best on the East Coast and my employer, just bought three new buses, and will be getting six more next semester. I attended a luncheon with the chancellor last week, and he said that even though the university's budget has been cut fifteen percent overall, everything will be pretty much normal next year. Buildings will be a little warmer in the summer and a little cooler in the winter, and professors will have extremely limited printing abilities (which I like that idea anyway – it saves some trees). We're much better off than some universities that have cut their budgets by up to fifty percent. We'll see how my financial aid turns out this year…
My parent's mentioned something about 401ks and savings, but they've always talked about those things. The economic crisis hasn't really affected me because I sort of grew up in one. We were always well off and I always got what a needed, and even some things I wanted; but there were always fights about debt and bad checks, my mom crying about it and my dad starting yet another business doomed to fail. I learned not to ask for expensive things, and felt horrible when my mom bought me a computer for school. I find myself baffled at the idea of even having loads of money, so it's almost impossible for me to imagine loosing it.
I'm young and new to the whole economy thing. Money has always been this magical entity that appears every now and then, materializes into something I really want at the time, and disappears as quickly as it came. These days it just seems to appear less often, and that's all the crisis has really been to me.
Greenville, North Carolina