By Linda Lockhart, PIN analyst
As this year comes to a close, the Beacon, with the help of the Public Insight Network, asked readers to share their assessments of 2011. In recent weeks, we posted two year-end PIN queries. The first asked readers whether their personal economic conditions — and that of the nation as a whole — were better, worse or the same as last year. In the second, we asked folks to tell us something specifically good that happened to them over the last 12 months.
The responses came in quickly to both queries. Over all, those who volunteered to share their stories, while totally unscientific, were more positive than negative. Still, there are those who are still struggling financially. They, too, are an important part of the story. Here, in their own words, are reader reflections on 2011. The answers have been edited for length and clarity.
Joan Bohac of south St. Louis: “My economic condition is worse than it was a year ago. I have been out of work for almost two and a half years.”
Bohac, 60, has worked as an administrative assistant in college administration, and left her previous job at Fontbonne University because she wanted to “step back” to something a little less demanding.
“Most people think I want to step up,” she said in a telephone interview. “They don’t understand that I want to go down a notch.”
In her written response, Bohack said, “Our savings have been depleted, as has my inheritance. My husband gets paid at the end of the month and that money was gone by the fifth of the month because we were $800-plus in the hole when his paycheck was deposited, from the previous month’s overdrafts and bank charges to pay for those overdrafts. We are trying to stay focused to buy only groceries, gasoline and medicine… We live in a nice neighborhood in a house we love, but we are considering moving if I can get a job at Truman State University.”
Regarding the nation’s economy, Bohac said: “I feel like it is making progress. It seems like the jobs I can apply for have increased and I have received more contact following the submission of an application.” Still, she said, she’s waiting for an offer.
Joseph Czaicki of Crestwood: “My economic condition is better than it was a year ago.”
Czaicki, 52, worked for 20 years as an enforcement officer with the federal Occupational Health and Safety Administration before he took early retirement in 2009. After two and a half years of contract work, including projects for BP related to the Gulf oil spill, this year Czaicki was hired as a health and safety professional for the Missouri Department of Labor.
Czaicki said he believes the nation’s economy “is trending a little better, but nobody really knows.” He said he was troubled by the high volume of contract jobs. “Companies contract out for every little thing. As a contract employee, you are treated differently. You don’t feel like part of the team. Companies are trying to make more money because sometimes they don’t always pay as much to contractors as they do staff employees, and they don’t have to pay benefits.”
In addition, he said, sometimes the quality of the work suffers. “The jobs get done in a minimal way. That has added, in part, to some of our problems.”
Brian Hook of south St. Louis: “My economic condition is about the same as it was a year ago. I resigned from a full-time job to restart my own business.”
Hooks, 40, owns a media development and consulting business. “In the last few months I launchedB.R. Hook at and Missouri Journal. I think now is a great time to be an entrepreneur.” On a personal level, Hooks said his “economic picture is bright.”
J.D. Wolfe of Manchester: “We held our own financially. One of the good things about this past year is the number of people who have moved toward fiscal responsibility and away from crass consumerism… Moving away from the excesses of the consumerism of the past decade or more has made people focus more on the value of their families.
“Part of this is simply attitudinal,” said Wolfe, 63. “Today is always better than yesterday. And tomorrow will be better yet. Two of my children are in law school, incurring huge debt, but looking forward with positive attitudes to finding satisfying jobs that will allow them to live reasonably and pay off those debts. This is good.”
Lois Sechrist of University City: “After three years of being between jobs and being self-employed, I started a wonderful job in my chosen field, with terrific people, with good pay. ”
Sechrist, 51, is a sustainability analyst with Ascension Health. “I am an interior designer by training. After many years as a project manager and designer with architectural firms, I was a victim of the poor economy. I chose to reinvent myself and focus on sustainability practices. After three years of self-education, consulting, networking and volunteering in the field of green practices, I now have a position as an analyst at Ascension Health, responsible for monitoring environmental stewardship at 70-plus hospitals across the U.S.”
Brian Whitehead of Kansas City: “I ran the fastest marathon of my life (2:29:59).”
Whitehead, 29, who until recently lived in Richmond Heights, said he ran his first marathon in 2007. “I started running early in school — I ran in college. It became part me and part of my life.” He said he enjoyed running for the competition, the fitness and for fun.
Whitehead is an unemployed environmental consultant. He worked for several years for a firm that conducts environmental assessments, but found himself looking for work as the economy went bad. For a while, he was able to find part-time, contract work, he said. “It’s dried up since then. Running was one thing I could focus on that gave me something positive to work toward.”
Debora Davidson of Chesterfield: “I am an occupational therapist, and I have enacted a decades-long dream of having a private practice. In June of this year I began working with adults who have special needs and who want some help to achieve their life goals in terms of work, education, leisure and independent living.”
Davidson, 55, is a co-founder of Bright Futures: Personalized Transition Consulting. She is also an adjunct professor at Saint Louis University.
“Through my practice, I have been able to help many wonderful people to become active and productive. They have become happy and confident, and their families have felt relieved and pleased, too. I love my new career.”
Beth von Behren of Olivette: “I became the parent of adults, when one child graduated from high school and the other graduated from college. It’s hard to let go, but I am so proud of both of them that I haven’t yet noticed how empty the nest is getting. I was the first in my family to go to college, so we are now (thankfully) a two-generation college family.”
Beth von Behren (left) with daughter Sara Thomas.
Von Behren, 53, is the information officer for the city of Kirkwood. She said that for her family, the good outweighed the bad in 2011. “It was the best year in years. Everything is going well,” even though daughter Sara Thomas moved back home after graduating last spring from Wesleyan University in Middletown, Ct. “She’s looking for a job and writing a novel,” von Behren said of her daughter. Son Simon Thomas, who graduated from Ladue Horton Watkins High School, is a freshman at the University of Missouri, St. Louis.
Jessica Saigh of St. Louis: “I spend a lot of time with my family and friends. Experiences are worth more than money.”
Saigh, 45, lives in the Dogtown neighborhood with her husband and their two young sons. “It was a very hard year for us financially. My husband is self-employed, and I work part-time. Still, with a little creativity, we managed to find ways to have fun. My husband and I love the arts, but we couldn’t afford the ticket prices, so we volunteered to usher for the symphony and theater. We got to see the shows for free. We also visited parks and free museums with the kids. We also had potluck parties with friends.”
Saigh works part time as an adjunct professor at the University of Missouri, St. Louis, where she teaches English as a second language.
“The economy stinks, but I’m hopeful that 2012 will be better,” Saigh said. She invests in memberships at the Science Center and the Botanical Garden. And they live near the Zoo. “When we are completely broke, we can still go to these places and do all kinds of things.”
Contact Beacon news editor and PIN analyst Linda Lockhart. This report appeared first in the St. Louis Beacon on Dec.25, 2011.