When the lunch bell rings and the chaos of finding a table and getting food ensues, it is hard to remember the crushing national secession or growing poverty rates in cities all across America. Some AHS students, however, face a constant nagging in the backs of their minds, consuming them with worries about the uncertain futures of their families, friends and loved ones.
According to Fairfax County statistics, the Fairfax County/Falls Church area has the second largest homeless population of our area, preceded only by metropolis Washington D.C. The number of homeless people from the 2009 count totals to 1,730, 60 percent of whom have family either living in the area or in the same predicament. Poverty is growing, and the economic crisis has affected everyone, endangering jobs and putting an end to luxuries that many took for granted.
“The way I used to ask my parents for stuff, like fashionable items, it’s not the same because we’re in a recession,” said junior Aurelie Folli. “I had to get a job to provide the things that I want for myself.”
Many students also worry about larger and more influential expenses.
“Just looking at colleges I’ve found that I probably won’t be able to go to my top choice school because I can’t afford it, and I have to pay for college myself,” said junior Caroline Rodrigues, who also has an older brother looking into graduate school. “Really the main sacrifice would be college to me, but I do worry about how much my parents are spending on me. Especially now that it’s the holiday season, I feel bad about them buying gifts for me when we should be saving the money.”
Family concerns are big with students, many of whom have an underlying sense of anxiety or guilt about parental spending. The stagnant job pool and frozen salaries that face employable adults limit disposable money, and force stricter budgeting and money conservation.
“[My parents] budget our money much more than they used to,” said Folli. “We planned to take a trip to Canada but we couldn’t do it because money was too tight.”
“My dad’s kind of gotten into stocks,” said sophomore Jordan Winkler. “Everyone is talking about the recession and we lost quite a bit of money, so he’s hoping the stocks will help get it back and he can know whether he’s going to lose money in the future or gain it.”
Sophomore Joshua Kim said, “Because of the economic crisis, my family was forced to move into a smaller apartment because my mom couldn’t afford the rent on our bigger one. We’re eating a bit less and we’ve cut off certain expenses, like going out to eat.”
The 2009 point-in-time count of homeless persons in Fairfax County states that the prime reasons for homelessness and poverty in Annandale are rising housing prices and lowering income. The average monthly rent for a one bedroom apartment is $1,134. This requires an income of at least $22.25 an hour, though 82 percent of all homeless people earn less than $14.24 an hour. At minimum wage it would be impossible to afford the cost of annual living expenses, even if you worked 24 hours a day for seven days a week. Domestic violence and health problems are also large reasons for homelessness. 25 percent of homeless people with families in the area are domestic abuse victims, and 30 percent suffer from chronic health conditions, according to Fairfax County statistics. These barriers create immense difficulties for people trying to acquire a steady housing situation.
“My mom can’t work right now, so I work for her and support my family. I pay rent and food expenses and everything. I have siblings, so it’s difficult for me because I have to dedicate a lot of time to them on top of work and school. I don’t sleep because I work at night. Sometimes it feels like I am the only one who sacrifices,” said one Annandale student who requested his name be withheld for privacy reasons.
Economic woes and tribulations are noticeable everywhere. Communities and household interactions demonstrate the pervasiveness of revenue loss and rising poverty levels, a national trend.
“In my neighborhood, many people now rely on the homeless shelter to provide for them. They use food stamps more often now,” said Folli.
Rodrigues said, “There are a lot more hushed conversations when my parents think I can’t hear them about tight spending and budgeting.”
Though the country’s economic situation has touched most people and brought about new habits of frugal spending at least, there are advantages to living in a country where regular consumer activities are slowed down. Appreciation can stem from little things like a hot plate of food in front of you or a warm bed. Families, with gifts pushed to the back of their minds, can better enjoy each other. And really, in the light of gratefulness and the holiday season, what more can you ask for?