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The Common Struggles of Working People

Brandi and Frank, the hypothetical couple in the above video, are drawn from extensive nationwide interviews with real Americans who work extremely hard, live modestly, and carry their financial anxiety through the day.

Ten of these families were also featured in written profiles by the U.S. Financial Diaries project. Like millions of working Americans, these families are buffeted by economic forces ranging from stagnating paychecks to a scarcity of employer benefits in low-wage jobs. The project identified common traits running through their financial lives.

They are continually trying to improve their lot, with education or by taking on extra jobs and by saving. Retirement saving, however, is a luxury – their saving is done to pay the unanticipated emergency or surprise expenses that inevitably crop up, according to the Diaries, a joint project of New York University’s Financial Access Initiative and the Center for Financial Services Innovation.

Saving for the short-term is also necessary because their sources of income can be erratic, requiring tricky rearrangements of their household resources. When they incur on-the-job expenses, employers’ reimbursements are often slow to arrive. Their monthly expenses often exceed monthly income, which can lead to late payments of utility bills or delays in medical treatment.

The following are short descriptions of some of the families profiled in the Diaries’ worthwhile project; the names were altered slightly to protect their privacy.

  • Sarah and Sam Johnson, who, despite full-time work and several part-time jobs, have no cushion for home repairs or health care. They’re also in debt.
  • The Hossains are immigrants also working multiple jobs – in retail, food service, and driving a taxi. They’re living below the standard of living they had back in Bangledesh, where Ahmed was an accountant.
  • Tim and Clara Adrian, a highly social couple in their early 30s, are both working but must depend on erratic income from supplying temporary foster care for children. A $200 traffic ticket meant Clara couldn’t treat an ear infection.
  • Mike Smith, apparently somewhat of a loner, is in his mid-50s and a self-described “tightwad.” He has to be: his income is low, and he isn’t paid when he works overtime at his maintenance job.

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