Grocery cart with an upward arrow to illustrate inflation
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JAMIL RAGLAND
JAMIL RAGLAND

October is my birthday month. I’ve never been very big into my own birthday, mostly due to a lifetime of disappointments surrounding it. A friend of mine has helped me to see that celebrating oneself is fun, and that it’s not wrong to do something nice for yourself every once in a while. So I thought to myself that it might be nice to set aside some money and do something neat in a couple of weeks. But October is also my mother’s birthday month. And my brother’s. And my friend’s. It’s fun to celebrate them on their birthday, too, to help them feel special and appreciated.

The money isn’t there though. No matter how much I work, or how much I try to save, there never seems to be enough money to pay bills and live a life of some leisure. There have been gaudy numbers thrown around regarding inflation and the economy for months now and how it’s been eating into budgets. We’ve heard that inflation has reached 9.1%, or that it’s the highest in 40 years. That sounds bad, but numbers without context are often meaningless to a lowly writer like myself. I’m not an economist, but I can talk about what the cost of living feels like from my perspective.

I am friends with a diverse group of brilliant, driven, hard working and kind people. People whose phones and utilities have been shut off. People who can’t access their accounts due to identity theft and are left without the paycheck they desperately need. People who have to find a new car after their last one broke down. People who borrow from friends to make it to the end of the week. People who supposedly should be thriving, but who are instead falling a little bit further behind every month. 

I’m one of those people. I leave the house at 5 a.m. every weekday, and get home at 8 p.m. Monday through Wednesday after my three jobs: High school tutor during the day, coach in the afternoon, and college tutor at night. I go to work on Saturday. I write this column twice a month. All of this puts me slightly under water most months. A college student asked me if I would take on a private client, and after initially declining due to my constant exhaustion, I reconsidered when I checked my bank account.

I’m not sure where else to cut expenses. I don’t own a car, so I don’t have a car note, insurance or gas. I live at home with my mother and brother, and we split the rent. My only recurring bills are my internet service and my cell phone. I admit, I do like to eat out. I enjoy a seafood bag now and again. I like good food, but try to find it during Happy Hour. Yes, I went on vacation this year – for the first time in 16 years.

Yet I keep hearing about how good the economy is. How low unemployment is. So low, in fact, that apparently it’s contributing to inflation and serious people are seriously saying that we should put more people out of work (because the problem is of course rising worker wages, not rising executive compensation). Somehow everything is fine, despite the fact that me and the people I care about can’t seem to make ends meet.

One piece of anecdotal evidence has stuck with me that I think reflects the true state of people’s finances. As individuals struggle, the state has been flush with cash from various pandemic-related programs and has decided to give some back to essential employees in the form of one-time bonuses. Full-time workers making less than $100,000 were promised $1,000, while part-time workers were promised $500. Nearly 250,000 applications later (in a state of 3.6 million), it looks like the state has woefully underestimated the need for financial help. Unless more money is allocated to the fund, the bonuses will fall far short of the initial promises.

I was fortunate enough to work from home during the height of the pandemic, and I don’t begrudge anyone applying for the bonus as compensation for the literal mortal danger they faced. There doesn’t seem to be anywhere else to turn for help though, so me and mine will continue to trudge along, cutting into the bone to make it through what will undoubtedly be a cold, expensive winter. At least I’ve come to expect disappointment for my birthday. But I would like that the people around me don’t become so jaded.

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Jamil Ragland

Jamil Ragland writes and lives in East Hartford. You can read more of his writing at www.nutmeggerdaily.com.

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