"I See No Way Out": Countless Americans Still Living Paycheck To Paycheck

A recent Philly.com article noted that, despite the supposed economic "boom", professionals like real estate agents, farmers, business executives and even computer programmers are all still living paycheck to paycheck. Responding to a Washington Post inquiry on Twitter, millennials, Generation Xers and baby boomers that work in a range of geographic areas claim that they have simply been unable to save as rent, childcare and student loans have all gotten in the way.

Americans living paycheck to paycheck were highlighted in a recent report from the Federal Reserve that showed four in ten adults say they couldn’t produce $400 in an emergency without going into debt or selling something. And now a partial government shutdown that is seeing nearly 800,000 federal workers not getting paid has fueled the discussion on Twitter about how brief income lapses can be disastrous for some households.

Another Twitter user wrote: “Broke my lease to accept new fed job for which I have to attend 7 months of training in another state. Training canceled with shutdown. Homeless. Can’t afford short(?)-term housing/have to work full-time for no pay/returning Christmas presents.”

Those involved in the conversation on Twitter have been using the hashtag #ShutdownStories in response to Rep. Scott Perry of Pennsylvania, who asked reporters last week: "Who's living that they're not going to make it to the next paycheck?"

Heidi Shierholz, a former chief economist at the Department of Labor, has the answer: “It’s astronomical what people need just to make it month to month. Given the high cost of transportation, housing, health care. … There is often no wriggle room.”

This holiday season, about 2,000 employees working basic government jobs like housekeeping and security are all not getting paid as a result of the shutdown: “My supervisor told me we won’t be getting paid, so my bills won’t be getting paid,” one State Department cleaner said matter of factly.

And even outside of the government shutdown, professionals across the nation are having trouble making ends meet. The chairman of liberal arts at a southern California college, Sol Smith, said that he's simply unable to save with four daughters and higher healthcare costs.

“I see no way out. I am 40, have built a strong career, have 17 years experience, and if something were to happen to me, my wife and kids would be homeless within a year when my life insurance ran out,” he said.

Lani Harrison says she has trouble buying groceries after paying her $2,249 rent on her LA apartment she shares with her husband, who is a software engineer. They are raising three kids. She earns $40 per appointment as a certified car seat installer.

She said: "Each month, we have to stretch his paycheck to make things work. We really don't have any savings. Many months we go under."

When she confides in friends about her financial situation, she’s "often surprised" that their stories are similar. Dillon Holt, who works as a housekeeping assistant in Nashville, said he’s down to one piece of chicken in his freezer. He says his checking account often sits around $0 and that he's unable to put away any money for the future or for an emergency. "I make $12.50, work 40-50 hours a week. I still don't have a savings account," he said.

Finally, for Emily Webb, who works as an arts administrator in Columbus, Ohio and as a waitress on the side, it is "a precarious dance" to stay afloat each month.

Webb has a master's degree but can't keep up with her student loans. She said: “It’s a scramble at the end of a paycheck to deposit my tips and make sure none of my automatic payments bounce.” 

Her one piece of good fortune? She’s finally been able to pay off her nine-year-old car. 

“The plastic part of the back bumper was slowly sliding off the back of it. I got rear-ended by an uninsured driver two years ago, so I reattached it with zip ties,” she said.