October 22, 2019

The cost of living in Israel: It’s as bad as you thought

This article originally appeared on The Media Line.

A common complaint among Israelis is that the cost of living in their country is high, higher even than in European or north-American states that might serve as a comparison to Israel. The Start-Up-Nation it might be, with a high-tech economy that largely escaped the effects of the 2008 crash, but for many young families, Israel is an expensive place to call home.

On the one hand Israel’s “standard of living as per capita is in the middle range, better than the poor countries of the OECD like Turkey, Mexico, Greece, (or) Portugal,” Rafi Melnick, a professor of economics at the Inter Disciplinary Center, Herzliya, said, referring to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development. On the other hand levels of poverty are worse in Israel than in most other countries in the Western economies club, Melnick told The Media Line.

Made up of 34 countries the OECD is an organization which aims to foster international trade, open market economies and democracy. Most of the club members are developed economies with high Human Development Indexes, a statistic used to rate standards of living between countries.

It is an organization that Israel joined in 2010, allowing Israelis to accurately compare their economy to other Western nations’ markets, a comparison that doesn’t reflect well on the country, some believe.

“The ratio between how much people earn and how much they have to spend to live is worse than in other countries,” Noam Shani, a new father who works in the tourism industry, told The Media Line. This is a feeling shared by many Israelis and also backed up by the statistics.

“Because of restrictions on the food market and the price of housing, the cost of living in Israel is high compared to that of the OECD countries,” Melnick confirmed. This is something especially felt by working class Israelis who are often undercut in terms of wages by the country’s foreign workers, many of whom are in fact Palestinians who come to work each day from the West Bank, the economist explained.

High levels of poverty among the Arab and the ultra-Orthodox communities, where only one member of the family might actually go out to work, also undermines Israel’s economic standing in comparison to its OECD partners, Melnick added.

But middle class Israelis are not unaffected by the cost of living in the Holy Land. Gal Mor is a business owner who lived in Berlin for several years. The price of basic necessities is, he said, markedly higher in Israel than in Germany, the father of three told The Media Line.

Food and housing are often cited as disproportionately high by Israelis, something Mor also commented on. “Another cost is transportation in a roundabout way, because public transportation (in Israel) doesn’t work so well. It doesn’t work on weekends, it’s not frequent or reliable enough… you can’t really count on it,” Mor said. When we lived in Berlin it was possible to get by using just public transport, while in Israel an average family with several children and both parents working needs two cars, Mor explained. This is an additional expense in a country where cars, their insurance and gas, are notoriously expensive.

Added to this is the fact that wages are often lower in Israel that in other countries where the cost of goods is comparable. “That’s the ultimate thing that has an impact – you earn less, your buying capacity is already lower,” Mor said.

Others point to the price of housing as the number one burden. “Rent is high and the cost of real estate is high… and the government has done nothing to change that,” Noam Shani argued. Like many middle class Israelis, Shani said he received help from family members that made it possible to navigate the country’s expensive housing market. In this regard he said he was lucky, “I know for a fact that there are a lot of people that don’t get that (help) and these people are in big trouble.”

The question as to ‘why’ the cost of living is so high is less easily answered than ‘how.’

A possible explanation is that the government is so frequently distracted by other issues that it doesn’t focus on the economy to the degree that a European administration would, Rafi Melnick suggested. The lack of practical action to reduce the increase in housing costs over the last eight years is one example, the academic noted, saying “It really reflects the fact that the government is busy taking care of other things, not the standard of living.”

But this seems to be what Israelis want. Despite their complaints, voters consistently fail to prioritize the economy when voting. “If you analyze the elections since, well, forever, for most Israelis questions of security dominate their voting decision,” Melnick concluded. 

If you care about California, then you should care about Salinas

Do you worry about the future of California?

Then you should worry about Salinas. Because if this Monterey County town of 155,000 can’t build itself a brighter future, it’s hard to imagine other struggling places doing the same. 

“Rich in Land. Rich in Values. Ripe With Opportunity,” reads the slogan on a city website, and that’s no exaggeration. Salinas might be the richest poor city in California.

So many poor California cities sit well inland, but Salinas is just eight miles from the Pacific. It might have the best weather in the state. It’s part of the prosperous Monterey Bay region, and close enough to Silicon Valley that rising apartment rents have become a problem (a two-bedroom costs more in Salinas than it does in Seattle or Miami). And while many poor California places are rapidly aging, Salinas has the advantage of youth—its average age is less than 30.

The Salinas Valley is known as the Salad Bowl of the World, a center for producing healthy foods—leafy greens and berries—at a time when such foods have never been more popular. Jobs in the region’s multibillion-dollar agriculture and tourism economies are so plentiful that some employers complain of labor shortages. It has a rich culture—from the dynamic Alisal neighborhood to an old downtown where a new headquarters for Taylor Farms is going up—and higher education, including an excellent community college and the newest California State University campus a 10-minute drive away. Salinas also has a healthy amount of civic engagement. Ask its residents where they’re from, and they’ll answer you with the name of their neighborhood—and a colorful description of it.

But ask people in Salinas why the city ranks so miserably low in so many measures—crime, schools, public health—and you’ll likely get puzzled looks.

By the numbers, Salinas borders on the nightmarish. Its homicide rate remains stubbornly high—nearly four times higher than the national average and more than twice as high as Los Angeles’; the year 2015 began with 10 shootings, including four deaths, in an 11-day period. Salinas and its neighboring communities in Monterey County have the highest rates of child poverty in the state. And Salinas lags significantly behind the state average in test scores, in its high school graduation rate, and the percentage of residents with bachelor’s degrees. Nearly 40 percent of Salinas residents have no high school diploma; the percentage statewide is 19 percent.

Salinas also has persistently higher unemployment than the state (8 percent vs. 6.3 percent currently) and a homeownership rate of less than 43 percent (compared to 55 percent statewide). In a bitter irony for a capital of healthy food, its obesity rates, especially among children, are well above the state average. And basic services can be hard to find. The federal government says Salinas is medically underserved—with not enough primary care doctors or dentists or mental health providers. And if you want to unwind or exercise in the fresh air, good luck. The city has one of the lowest ratios of parkland per resident in California, less than half the amount of L.A. or San Francisco (and eight times less than San Jose).

As a columnist traveling around California, this mismatch between its horrible statistics and its obvious strengths makes Salinas one of the most frustrating cities in California. And easily the most confounding. Why does Salinas add up to so much less than the sum of its parts? 

Two of its handicaps are fundamental: it’s a midsized city and it’s in California. Salinas is one of 60 small cities in this state of between 100,000 and 300,000 people, too many of which are dysfunctional; Salinas’ municipal sisters include bankrupt Stockton and San Bernardino. The problems for Salinas-sized cities is that many started as smaller towns and grew to have all the problems of any urban place, while retaining the weak local governments and public resources of small towns. California’s governing system—which famously limits the power and discretion of local officials—imposes heavy regulations on local communities while giving city governments precious little power to shape their own destinies. 

Salinas, to its credit, has more than its share of people who have tried to transform the community anyway. Many of its leading citizens were part of the 1970s farmworker movement—or are the children of those who were—and there is almost no constituency for the status quo in Salinas. People there know the city needs to change. 

But, perversely, the ambitions of Salinas have served mainly to create more frustration.

People in Salinas are very good at starting things—launching new campaigns or programs, building new things. But finding the public resources to maintain them has been harder. Driving around town, you can see how Salinas is littered with public institutions it couldn’t quite sustain. A golf course that had to be taken over by First Tee. A public swimming pool that had to be taken over by a private aquatic club. (It’s still open to the public, but at limited hours and for a fee). A performing arts center now occupied by a charter school. At police headquarters, a cop tells me how the gang unit is being disbanded so that the understaffed department can have enough people on patrol. 

And then, right in the center of the city sits the National Steinbeck Center, a monument to its native son, the Nobel Laureate author John Steinbeck. It failed to meet very high projections for drawing tourists, and faltered. After a years-long ordeal that involved debt and foreclosure and fighting, it’s about to be rescued by California State University Monterey Bay. 

The one lasting legacy of so many spasmodic endeavors is an ingrained sense of skeptical fatalism, particularly among the young in Salinas, who are the target audience of many ambitious programs there. Those who run such programs say they are often asked by young skeptics, “How long is this going to last?”

Salinas can count some victories. After its libraries nearly ran out of money in 2005, local fundraising and a vote for a sales tax increase rescued them. Friends of the libraries, incidentally, have come up with one of the best ideas I’ve seen anywhere in California —mobile paleteros, or ice cream carts that move around the city dispensing books and library cards, and providing mobile Wi-Fi hot spots. More recently, Acosta Plaza, originally an owner-occupied housing development that fell on hard times, is being revived by a coalition of housing developers, young people, and community organizations.

Of course, Salinas has problems that are peculiar to it. While residents like to tout the size and wealth of the city’s agriculture industry, the hard truth is that for most, agriculture is an industry that doesn’t pay all that well, which is why agriculturally-oriented cities are typically poor and too often plantation-like in their social structure. 

And while Salinas boasts remarkable diversity, it’s also been marked by segregation and racism. Monterey County was one of three California counties that, until very recently, had to get federal approval for changes in its election rules because of its history of voting discrimination against Latinos and Asians. And inside Salinas, the divide between a poor and Latino east side and the rest of the city is profound, and dates back across decades of racial and ethnic discrimination.

In this age of inequality, Salinas’s prosperous surroundings do it no favors. The economic successes of Monterey and the Bay Area can make the climb Salinas faces seem steeper than it really is. 

It also makes people in Salinas feel isolated. Steinbeck wrote that the fog turned Salinas into “a closed pot” cut off “from the sky and from all the rest of the world,” a line that still gets quoted by residents even though their city is a California crossroads. It’s right on the 101, connecting north and south, linking the coast and the agricultural inland. Even if you’ve never stopped to visit, you’ve almost certainly driven through.

Salinas is an All-America City, too. That’s not an opinion—it’s an official designation, issued just last month, by the National Civic League. And, suitably, it’s a double-edged award. It recognizes all the efforts in Salinas to address community problems—of which there is an all-American abundance. 

Joe Mathews is California & innovation editor for Zócalo Public Square, for which he writes the Connecting California column. This column is part of Salinas: California's Richest Poor City, a special project of Zócalo Public Square and the California Wellness Foundation. 

Zionist Camp Economics 101: Out with the New, In with the Old

Forget Hezbollah, Hamas, Abbas and Iran: the primary driver in Israel's upcoming elections is the high cost of living. Recent polls have consistently shown that domestic policy and economics, rather than security and Palestinian peacemaking, are what most Israelis will be thinking about when they cast their votes on March 17.

With Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's bedrock issue, national security, no longer the focus of many voters, the Zionist Camp smells blood. The left-center bloc led by opposition Labor leader Isaac Herzog and Tzipi Livni is campaigning hard to persuade stressed out Israelis that the era of sky-high rents, stagnant salaries and limited job opportunities will end once Netanyahu is sent packing.

Beyond the populist blather that passes for political discourse, it’s the staleness of the Zionist Camp's ideas on how to fix Israel that voters should be wary of.

For example, outraged members of the Zionist Camp recently lashed out when it was revealed that the Netanyahu government has pumped one-third of the country’s funding for subsidized housing into settlements: 35% of the funds for less than 5% of Israel’s population, while engaging in a campaign of diplomatic suicide.

Blame Israel's economic troubles on the settlements. It's an old leftist canard that delegitimizes the very real trials and tribulations of over 400,000 Jewish men, women and children – Israelis – who happen to be living over the Green Line.

In addition, the Zionist Camp believes that the current government's policies Vis a Vis West Bank settlement activity has unleashed a potent anti-Israel boycott, divestment and sanctions movement that is growing stronger by the day.

If Benjamin Netanyahu is re-elected, we are warned, Israel will inevitably find itself economically and politically isolated.

In fact, it's the Israeli left's socialist and statist heritage that bred an inefficient economic system that is only now beginning to reform.

Hertzog and Livni claim to be the heirs to Herzl and Ben-Gurion. Hilik Bar, the Secretary General of the Israeli Labor Party recently wrote, “The Labor Party, which together with Hatnuah is running as the Zionist Camp, founded and built the State of Israel.”

 As such, a quick history lesson is in order. Israel's Zionist founders, on whose ideological shoulders today's Zionist Camp stands, asserted that World War I was caused by the failures of capitalism.

After Israel's independence in 1948, Socialist Zionism established a highly centralized economic system dominated by political cronyism. While the statist policies of Israel's successive labor governments failed to create a socialist paradise, they did succeed in building monolithic, unresponsive bureaucratic institutions that retarded the country's economic growth for decades. Israelis learned to live in a perpetual state of impoverishment.

However, Labor economic policies do much more harm than merely restrict competition and stifle productivity. A recent Jerusalem Post piece by Jerusalem Institute for Market Studies Director Corinne Sauer noted that a series of studies drew one conclusion: countries considered anti-business are also the most corrupt.  

This grim economic landscape began to be overhauled in 2003, when Benjamin Netanyahu was appointed Israel's Finance Minister. Netanyahu initiated a series of pro-market economic reforms that Israelis are only now beginning to benefit from.

Don't look now, but Israel's economy is actually showing signs of robust growth. Exports to Europe are on the rise, with nearly 10 percent growth in the past year alone; Israel's Hi-Tech industry is having a record year, with a number of Israeli companies going public and a record amount is being invested in Israeli companies.

But surely, these successes are few and far between. Certainly, 'ordinary' Israelis are worse off today, no?

Truth is, Israel has enjoyed virtually uninterrupted growth for over a decade. The worldwide Great Recession has largely bypassed the Start Up Nation. While debt crises and bank bailouts have hobbled European economies to this day, Israel hasn't just persevered, but prospered.

And while the cost of living has undeniably increased, household income has also grown since the percentage of homes with two wage earners has risen from just 30% a decade ago to 44% today. Wages growth has been slow, but it has grown faster than in Europe.

For these positive trends to continue, Israel needs to improve its labor productivity to ensure sustained and higher levels of economic growth.

Does the Zionist Camp's platform encourage a climate of freedom, competition and entrepreneurship critical to helping Israel realize its full economic potential?

According to Secretary General Hilik Bar, Israel's ongoing challenge of developing an economy in which the country's wealth stimulates domestic innovation and prosperity can best be addressed if the government does not “pump your taxes into wealthy settlements in the West Bank while ordinary Israelis are suffering.”

Oh Labor, there you go again…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Netanyahu makes cost-of-living promise ahead of Israeli election

In nearly nine years as Israel's prime minister spread over three terms, Benjamin Netanyahu has been a security hawk, promising to do whatever it takes to combat the threat from Palestinian militants or a nuclear-armed Iran.

But as he opened his campaign for a fourth term ahead of elections set for March 17, Netanyahu stepped away from his security base to make a pitch for the large number of Israelis who are more worried about the high cost of living.

At an economic conference in Tel Aviv on Monday, he promised to cut the value added tax imposed on basic foods such as milk, bread, cheese and eggs to zero from 18 percent.

It was a bold move to head off the threat from more centrist candidates, such as Yair Lapid, the telegenic finance minister who was fired by Netanyahu last week, who are expected to make the cost of living a central plank of their campaigns.

“This is a benefit for millions of citizens a year,” said Netanyahu, saying it would cost 2 billion shekels ($500 million), one billion less than a plan Lapid had to cut the VAT on housing for first-time buyers.

“The weaker the family, the more members in a family, the greater the savings will be,” he said, casting the promise as attractive to the ultra-Orthodox community, who tend to have large families and could swing the election this time.

While security issues are never far from Israelis' minds, particularly after the war in Gaza, surveys indicate that the cost of living is the dominant issue ahead of the next election.

A poll by Israel's Channel 10 this week showed nearly half of those surveyed (48 percent) put high prices and social policies as the main influence on how they will vote.

That is higher than a poll conducted before the last election in January 2013, when 43 percent cited economic issues and the cost of living as the biggest concern.

In that vote, Lapid, a former TV presenter, won 19 of parliament's 120 seats, making his party the single biggest.

After years of hammering on about the existential threat Israel faces, Netanyahu knows he has to offer hope to those struggling to make ends meet if he is to hold on to power.

“The other parties are making the point for socio-economic issues and they have good political reasons to do it,” said Gideon Rahat, a professor of politics at Hebrew University.

“Many people in Israel have had enough of security and foreign policy. They want progress on socio-economic issues.”

While Lapid's star has faded and polls predict he will win only around nine seats in the next election, the new threat for Netanyahu comes from Moshe Kahlon, a former communications minister and ex-member of Netanyahu's own Likud party.

Kahlon got the credit for bringing mobile phone costs down dramatically over the past two years, making him the new cost-of-living champion. Some polls predict he could win 12 seats next year. The question is whether he can bring his price-cutting powers to other sectors.

Israeli workers strike cut short by court

Israel’s main labor union ended a brief strike that shut down major sectors of the economy on Monday, following a labor court injunction that limited the action to just four hours.

The Histadrut Labour Federation, the umbrella body for hundreds of thousands of public sector workers, was looking to strike for as long as it took to reach an agreement with the government over the status of contract workers.

The union had threatened to shut down Israel’s airports, ports, banks and the stock market indefinitely, but accepted the court decision and limited the strike to Monday morning.

Ben Gurion International Airport near Tel Aviv was closed for two hours and about a dozen flights were delayed or canceled. An airports authority spokesman said operations were swiftly returning to normal.

The Tel Aviv Stock Exchange started trading about an hour late and will stay open an extra half hour.

On Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had called on the Histadrut to cancel the strike, which also affected trains, buses, universities, government ministries and municipalities.

The disagreement focused on the status of contract workers.

The Histadrut wants the government to provide full benefits to 250,000 contract workers—such as cleaners and security guards—who have worse terms than staff directly on government payrolls.

Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz has said he was willing to accept “models from developed welfare states like Sweden, Finland and Holland” where he said such workers are employed through contractors, but they have better conditions.

The labor court instructed the parties to hold intensive talks to find a solution and report on progress by Thursday.

“We hope that the government and employers will use the days allotted by the court to hold real and serious negotiations to reach agreements,” Histadrut leader Ofer Eini said in a statement.

Reporting by Ari Rabinovitch; editing by Philippa Fletcher

Israel at a crossroads: Danger or opportunity?

Conflicting Issues or two sides of Israel’s national security?

a)  Israel’s middle class and the socio-economic ‘‘Revolution’‘: 300,000 Israeli’s take to the streets demanding a ‘‘New Deal’‘.
b) ‘‘Palestinian September’’ – Recognition of an independent Palestinian State:  Reaction of UN, Israeli government and Jewish communities.

Israel stands at a crossroads once again, threatened from within by the lack of solidarity and crisis of trust between the Israeli government and the middle class. Israel is also threatened from without by the ‘’Palestinian September’’ as the Palestinians take their case for an independent State to the United Nations.

There is an inherent connection between the public outcry regarding Israel’s socio-economic gaps and Israel’s national security.  These are two sides of Israel’s continuing struggle for security and acceptance in the complex reality of living in the tough neighborhood of the Middle East.

Israel’s shrinking middle class has been hit by stagnation in wages and the privatization of the public sector. There is a feeling that the socio-economic inequality among Israeli citizens, one of the highest in the western world, is crippling their ability to live normal lives and is slowly threatening their willingness to mobilize themselves for the betterment of Israeli society. Israelis between the ages of 20-45 are the backbone of Israel’s defense forces as well as the economic and cultural future of the country.  At the same time, this same population is constantly living in danger from the missiles of the Hezbollah in the north, the Hamas in the south. Today, an additional threat exists, of a Palestinian Intifada, as we move towards September and the issue of a declaration of an independent Palestinian State at the United Nations is approaching. Israel’s resilience depends on nourishing its inner strength with its ability to stand firm against external threats.  Israel’s enemies understand this connection and are trying to implode Israel from within.

This complex situation can cripple the ability of Israel to flourish or it could be an opportunity to deal with Israel’s basic issues, incorporating a ‘‘new deal ‘’ between the government and the people and also open up avenues to move forward to the two-State solution between Israel and the Palestinians.

Israel, with the support of the Jewish world must face both these issues as if they are one.

Martin Ben Moreh, Director of Judaism, Renewed Zionism and the Israeli Society, at the Reut Institute.

Netanyahu comments on protests get music remix [VIDEO]

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has become the latest target of Israeli musician Noy Alooshe and his satirical music videos.

In the clip released this week, Alooshe takes comments by the prime minister claiming that there would be no protests in Israel akin to those in the Arab World and mixes them with recent footage of Israelis taking to the streets en masse over the spiraling cost of living in the country.

This is not the first that Alooshe has remixed the prime minister’s words. In May, the musician made a video based on Netanyahu’s speech to Congress; other leaders to find themselves as stars of one of his videos include Silvio Berlusconi and Muammar Gadhafi.

Read more at Haaretz.com.

Jewish Poor Fear Stigma of Poverty

For Albert Osher, life was good. The co-owner of a Fairfax antique store that registered annual sales of $100,000, he enjoyed romantic dinners with his live-in girlfriend, theater and movies. To prepare for his impending retirement, the now-78-year-old New York native stashed away more than $100,000 in savings, a cushion that gave him a strong sense of financial security.

Like Osher, Linda (not her real name) lived well. Growing up on the Westside in a million-dollar home, the closest she ever came to poverty was when her Jewish youth group visited the occasional soup kitchen or homeless shelter.

After graduating from a University of California campus, Linda headed east to Washington, D.C., where she transformed herself from a political junkie into a political player. Between 1987 and 1993, she held several high-ranking positions on the staffs of prominent Democratic representatives and senators. Returning to Southern California to live closer to her family, Linda eventually parlayed her political skills into a local lobbying career.

On the surface, Osher and Linda would seem to make good poster children for ambitious, bright, successful Southland Jews. Dig a bit deeper, though, and the picture is less pretty. For different reasons, Osher and Linda found themselves in dire financial straits that threatened to plunge them into abject poverty.

That they both managed to pull themselves from the abyss in no way mitigates the real, albeit often-hidden, phenomena of Jewish poverty. A recent report by The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles found that nearly one in five local Jews, or 104,000 out of 520,000, earns less than $25,000 a year, with 7 percent living beneath the poverty line. Los Angeles’ high cost of living makes it especially difficult on poor Jews, who often go without health insurance and are reluctant to ask for assistance.

“There’s a sense of shame and of not letting your peers know about your situation,” said Miriam Prum Hess, The Federation’s vice president for planning and allocations. “There’s a desire to make everything look OK. As a community, our challenge is to preserve people’s dignity and make it safe for them to receive needed services.”

Osher’s downward spiral began in the mid-1990s, when his live-in partner of nearly three decades, Sybil Kerns, fell ill. Wracked with diabetes, anemia and finally Alzheimer’s, she needed expensive in-home care and medicines only partially covered by insurance. To help out, Osher dipped into his savings and sold off Kerns’ antique doll collection for $30,000. Her care proved so costly, though, that he ended up going through all the money by the time Kerns died in 1999.

After her death, Osher found himself emotionally and financially spent. Nearly penniless, the proud entrepreneur took to eating free meals at friends’ and family’s homes and hitting them up for loans. Some nights, he said, he went to bed hungry.

To save what little money he had, Osher vacated the two-bedroom house he had rented with Kerns and moved into a small Fairfax apartment. His Social Security and disability checks bought some food but were not enough to cover the rent. His landlord soon evicted him.

Having exhausted his inner circle’s good will, Osher found himself on the streets. For an entire week, Osher, then in his 70s, spent his nights crisscrossing town on a bus, boarding at Melrose and getting off an hour and a half later at Santa Monica Beach. He would turn around and make the round-trip again and again and again.

“When you’re sitting alone on the bus or walking down the street late at night, you feel all alone,” Osher said. “It’s a terrible feeling.”

These days, he lives safely and securely at Villa Poinsettia in Hollywood, an assisted-living home that he discovered through a friend. Osher volunteers at the Freda Mohr Multipurpose Center five days a week, greeting folks as they drop by and helping them read.

His monthly Social Security and disability checks cover room and board and leave him with $100 in pocket money. However, Osher rarely spends much of it on himself. Perhaps remembering what it’s like to have nothing, he said he gives away what little he has.

“If a couple of people need a couple of bucks, I share it with them,” he said.

The story of 39-year-old Linda is less dramatic but no less illuminating about how quickly a person can lose their financial bearings.

So sure of her marketability was Linda that she had no reservations about quitting her well-paying lobbying job in late 2000, because of a personality conflict with a superior. With $5,000 in the bank, a strong resume and a Rolodex full of contacts, she jumped on a plane and vacationed in China. Linda figured it would take no more than two months to find new full-time work.

It took nearly three years.

As the U.S. economy struggled, so, too, did Linda. Her confidence gave way to concern which morphed into worry. Although she had no trouble landing interviews for government and other positions, she was unable to nail down a job. Employers, she said, had piles of resumes on their desks from qualified people just like her who desperately needed a job.

When she ran out of money, Linda took on a slew of part-time work. She tutored students in English and Hebrew, coached children’s sports, baby-sat cats and dogs and helped write and edit a college guide for overseas students.

Linda eventually cobbled together enough work to earn about $27,000 a year. Still, she had no sick leave, paid vacation or health insurance. Linda stopped eating out and bought everything on sale — when she could afford it. She had to drop out of synagogue, because she couldn’t afford the dues. In an ill-advised attempt to curtail spending, she took to skipping her prescription drugs.

Financially, Linda barely got by, living paycheck to paycheck. Then a crisis nearly bankrupted her.

In spring 2003, Linda felt an acute internal pain. Despite her intense discomfort, she put off visiting a doctor for several hours, because she had no health insurance.

Finally, she broke down and went to the emergency room. After three hours of tests, doctors ruled out appendicitis but could not identify her problem. As if that wasn’t reason enough to worry, they also handed her a $600 bill.

Linda, with nowhere to turn, asked her father for the money. Although relieved to pay off her debt, she said she experienced a certain amount of humiliation having to ask him for money in her late 30s.

She realizes she was lucky. Some poor people have no one to bail them out, and if her condition necessitated surgery, she could have slipped tens of thousands of dollars into debt.

Recently, Linda found a new job with benefits. She works in the admissions office of a Los Angeles college. Looking back, she still can’t believe that someone as educated and hard-working as she is ended up as part of the working poor.

“I have a good job, a 401(k). I guess I shoud feel happy,” Linda said. “But in the back of my mind, I’m a little worried. I kind of feel like I should run out to the UCLA job board and write down leads, just in case.”