Senior stretches income to support her son
It is a notion hard-wired into us, that the American Dream is accessible to any and all willing to reach for it; that earnest work, determination and grit is all an individual needs to succeed, regardless of the circumstances. Lately, people are beginning to question the veracity of this ideal, as they watch it bow under the immense weight of the Great Recession.
Go ask Adeline. She knows.
Adeline is a senior who worked in Mountain View for 26 years before retiring to her Palo Alto home in 2003. She lives on a fixed income and never anticipated — nor budgeted for — her son moving back home. Why would she? He had been living in a studio apartment in Mountain View and had held the same job for five years.
But he was laid off two years ago and has since been unable to find full-time work. The two now share one roof.
It came as a shock to Adeline, who asked that her son's name be omitted and her real name not be used. Her son is proud, she explained, and wouldn't like being identified.
By all of Adeline's accounts, her son has every reason to be proud. He'd been self-sufficient since graduating from San Jose State University with a degree in public relations and had paid back all of his student loans himself.
As she sat in the sunny courtyard at the Mountain View Senior Center — a venue she goes to "all the time" — she recounted the unexpected toll the recession has taken on her and her son.
"It's cramped," she said of living with her son again. They disagree on things like when to open the windows.
"We get on each others' nerves," she said.
When her son was first laid off, Adeline said, he started applying to as many jobs as he could. He would often get interviews, only to be edged out by other candidates. After a while without work, he was asking her for help to pay the $1,200 monthly rent at his Mountain View apartment.
As the weeks turned into months, and he was still unable to land a job, he had little choice but to move in with Adeline, who is now the main source of income for the two. She buys groceries and recently paid about $1,000 to help her son make some necessary repairs to his car.
From time to time, her son has picked up part-time work, she said. However, his part-time gigs came with an unintended consequence — his unemployment payments dipped from about $400 to $100.
"That didn't seem quite right," Adeline said. "You try to do what you can and you get penalized."
To keep occupied, she said her son goes to the gym just about every day. Adeline offers words of encouragement occasionally, but said that talking about work with her son is a "tender subject."
"I always tell him that he has a lot of good to offer," she said. "We have to believe that. Otherwise you wouldn't have any hope."
Yet, despite her attempts to cheer up her son, she said she doesn't know if he holds much hope at the moment.
"You take so much rejection," she said with a sigh. "He's discouraged."
He doesn't want to take a job at a department store or restaurant, on account of his pride, she said. But he is considering that option more and more these days, she said.
Adeline said that she enjoys the programs and friends she has made at the senior center and that the lunches are "good — most days." At $2.50 for seniors, the center's lunch program is also easy on her pocketbook.
"You have to save whenever you can," she said.
While Adeline generally maintains a positive outlook, she said that at times she becomes frustrated when thinking about how many jobs have been outsourced to foreign countries.
"What was left for people over here?" she asked, somewhat exasperated, allowing the question to linger, unanswered, in the warm afternoon air.