It’s been an eventful year. I haven’t posted since January 2018 because, well, I thought I had nothing to say. My adventures living and teaching abroad had come to an end, and I was now adapting to the daily grind of trying to survive in late-capitalist America under Trump. It’s been an interesting journey, but not in ways that I thought deserved lengthy descriptions via blog posts.
First, my professional life: my teaching career continues. For a year now I’ve been teaching English as a Second Language at Wilbur Wright College, City Colleges of Chicago. It’s a job that I love, and one that I can keep for the rest of my working life. There are a couple of drawbacks. First, it’s a part-time job, 20 hours a week, so my income is limited. Second, at present I’m teaching a split shift, one morning class 7-9 a.m. and an evening class 5-8 p.m. For five hours of teaching Monday through Thursday I spend about the same amount of time commuting on public transportation. It’s immensely impractical, and exhausting. Eventually, as I build seniority, I’ll be able to consolidate my schedule into more manageable time slots. Small wonder, then, that I was absolutely drained by the time the one-month winter break arrived.
Second, I’ve been thinking a lot about the inequities of income vs. living costs in this country. I can give a concrete example, since I’ve lived in the same area of Chicago during two stages of my life, 40 years apart. In 1978, after graduating from college, I moved into a studio apartment in Lakeview East (then called New Town) that cost $190 a month. Fast-forward to 2019, and I’m living two blocks away from that first apartment, in a comparable studio, and paying $1,000 a month. That’s an increase of 500% over 40 years. Over the same period, the average income (certainly not mine) has not risen by anything close to that percentage.
When I was young, rental agencies recommended that you apply for apartments that cost about 25% of your income. Today, I pay 50% of my (limited) income for extortionist rent. When you consider that I live in a popular, rather upscale area near the lake, you might think that there are cheaper areas of Chicago in which to live. There aren’t. Finding a rental in any area under $1,000 is almost impossible.
In June 2018, the national average rent reached an all-time high of $1,405 (https://www.cbsnews.com/news/u-s-urban-rents-hit-all-time-high-at-average-1405-report/). That’s insane. Chicago is much cheaper than New York or San Francisco, but I wonder how people on limited incomes actually survive here. For rent to be about one-quarter of income, as previously recommended, would require an income of over $5,600 a month. At 40 hours a week, that’s over $35 an hour. Even if minimum wage eventually rises to $15, that’s less than half of what it would cost to afford big-city housing.
Fortunately, I’m debt-free. I don’t own a car, property, and have no loans or credit card debt. However, my carefully-guarded savings from teaching in China, earmarked for a retirement nest egg, are almost depleted. I’m joining the ranks of older Americans who can look forward to no financial security, and possibly no retirement. I knew all of this before I moved back to my native country. Over the past year and a half, it’s been hammered home for me.
On the plus side, I enjoy my life here. I follow my creative pursuits, I have work I love, and I have a basic if comfortable life. Hopefully, I will share more of it via this blog in the future.