Here is the full text and summary of Elizabeth White’s talk titled “Fifty-five, Unemployed, Faking Normal” at TEDxVCU conference.
Listen to the audio version here:
You know me. I am in your friendship circle, hidden in plain sight. My clothes are still impeccable, bought in the good years when I was still making money. To look at me, you would not know that my electricity was cut off last week for non-payment, or that I meet the eligibility requirements for food stamps.
But if you paid attention, you would see that sadness in my eyes, hear that hint of fear in my otherwise self-assured voice. These days, I’m buying the $1.99 tile-sized jug of Tide to make ends meet. I bet you didn’t know laundry detergent came in that size. You invite me to the same expensive restaurants the two of us have always enjoyed, but I order mineral water now with a twist of lemon, not the $12 glass of Chardonnay.
I am frugal in my menu choices, meticulous, I count every penny in my head. I demur, dividing the table bill evenly to cover desserts and designer coffees and second and third glasses of wine I did not consume. I am tired of trying to fake appearances.
A friend told me that I’m broke, not poor, and there is a difference. I live without cable, my gym membership, and nail appointments. I’ve discovered I can do my own hair. There is no retirement savings, no nest egg. I exhausted that long ago.
There is no expensive condo to draw equity and no husband to back me up. Months of slow pay and no pay have decimated my credit. Bill collectors call constantly, reading verbatim from a script before expressing polite sympathy for my plight and then demanding payment arrangements I can’t possibly meet. Friends wonder privately how someone so well-educated could be an economic freefall.