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‘I Feel Like I’m Failing Them’: How Low-Income Parents Struggle Over The Holidays

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Jasmine, 32, is looking forward to Christmas, a rare opportunity to spend an entire day with her twin 8-year-old boys. But she’s also anxious ― anxious that she’ll disappoint them because she can’t afford to buy them the few gifts they asked for this holiday season.

“Some days I feel like I’m failing them,” Jasmine, a single mom who works two jobs, told HuffPost. “It almost makes me feel like I’m not trying as hard as I think I am.

The holiday season is in full swing. According to seasonal ads and movie classics, this should be the most joyous, magical time of year, when families exchange nice gifts and enjoy festive meals. But for low-income families and those living paycheck to paycheck, it can be the most stressful time. There are concerns about how to scrape money together to buy gifts and pay for holiday meals. Then there are worries about lost wages for taking time off or child care costs if parents work while the kids are at home. There’s anxiety about the basic expenses, too. When school or day care is closed, that also means children don’t have access to meals they typically get during the day.

“If you think about low-income families, there are really ongoing financial pressures throughout the year,” said Caroline Ratcliffe, a senior fellow at the Urban Institute, a nonprofit research group. “Those financial pressures can intensify during the holidays,”

For these families, it isn’t about making more sacrifices or working harder. For many of them, there are no more frills left to cut and there are no more hours in the day available.

Veronica and her 2-year-old daughter receive a holiday meal box at Open Arms Mission Food Pantry in Antioch, Illinois, in 201


Northern Illinois Food Bank

Veronica and her 2-year-old daughter receive a holiday meal box at Open Arms Mission Food Pantry in Antioch, Illinois, in 2016. The Northern Illinois Food Bank’s meal boxes are packed with a turkey or ham, potatoes and other traditional holiday foods for a family of eight.

According to Julie Yurko, CEO of the Northern Illinois Food Bank, 77 percent of the clients who use the organization’s service are part of working families.

“It dispels a myth, this preconceived notion that these are not hard-working families and aren’t doing everything they can to provide for themselves,” Yurko said.

Most weeks, Jasmine doesn’t take a single day off. During regular working hours, she’s a phlebotomist at a lab, where she earns about $30,000 a year. At nights and on weekends, she doubles as a liquor ambassador. She educates customers about a particular wine or beer at stores or at sporting events. That earns her about $2,000 more a year. Jasmine makes too much money to qualify for government benefits, but it’s not enough to cover her expenses.

“You need so much of certain things. It costs so much,” Jasmine said. “When you don’t have it, you just don’t have it.”

Many families face the same issue. Even though the unemployment rate has fallen, wages have remained stagnant. 

One of the biggest expenses Jasmine struggles with each month is food. Ideally, she’d like to spend about $400. By shopping at multiple stores to get the best deals, and getting some help from a food pantry that’s operated by the Northern Illinois Food Bank, she’s able to shave that expense in half. The food bank she visits is run out of her sons’ school and is going to be closed over the holiday.

Not having access to the food pantry was another consideration as Jasmine tried to budget and prepare for Christmas.

Like most parents, Jasmine wants to make her kids feel special over the holidays. According to a recent report from Bankrate, a website that provides financial advice, 54 percent of polled parents said they felt pressure to overspend during the holidays. 

Jasmine can’t consider overspending. Instead, she’s being extra resourceful and has to accept that there will be some disappointment.

The twins handed her a pretty reasonable wish list this year. They asked for new shoes and clothes. They each wanted a crucifix necklace.

She was able to find the necklaces at Marshall’s for $15.99. The rest of the requests will have to wait.

To save up for gifts and Christmas dinner, Jasmine didn’t buy a single thing for two weeks. Instead of paper towels, they used hand towels. Jasmine made meals with only what was available in the cupboards ― a lot of canned goods and pasta. She drove just as far as she had to go and not a mile more to save on gas. She’s been stretching her toiletries and doing larger loads of laundry so she doesn’t waste detergent.

In a recent Bankrate survey, 54 percent of parents said they felt pressure to splurge on gifts over the holidays. To come up


krisanapong detraphiphat via Getty Images

In a recent Bankrate survey, 54 percent of parents said they felt pressure to splurge on gifts over the holidays. To come up with money for gifts, many low-income parents have to ration food and toiletries to come up with extra cash for presents.

Rationing and making hard decisions is common among families who are struggling to get by, Yurko said.

Clients who visit the food bank will stock up on oatmeal and peanut butter, because those are filling foods They water down juices to make them last longer. Parents will often go without food so that their children won’t go hungry. They’ll pay half an electric bill one month to have some extra money to work with.

“They will make tough choices as they’re stretching,” Yurko said. “They’re buying what’s most important at this moment.”

But the holidays are just a symptom of a bigger issue. Most struggling families don’t have any sort of savings to cover something more dire, like a major medical issue. About a quarter of families have no non-retirement savings, said Ratcliffe. She added that having just $250 to $750 set aside for emergencies could help protect families from financial ruin because once an unexpected bill arises, families can fall prey to predatory loans that can hurl them into a cycle of debt.

As for Jasmine, she remains upbeat and is as honest as she can be with her young sons about their finances. When they ask for food or gifts she can’t afford, she’s straightforward with them.

“I tell them we have to wait until later because I have other responsibilities. Every now and again, they will cry or get a little frustrated. What can I do?”



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Gymboree Files For Bankruptcy For The Second Time In Almost 2 Years

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Jan 17 (Reuters) – Children’s clothing retailer Gymboree Group Inc filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, the second time in almost two years, and said on Wednesday it will close more than 800 Gymboree and Crazy 8 stores.

The San Francisco-based company said it will also sell its high-end line, Janie and Jack, as well as its intellectual property and online platform.

The company’s Canadian arm, Gymboree Inc, also intends to seek bankruptcy protection, it said.

Gymboree is the second U.S. retailer to file for bankruptcy on Wednesday. Earlier, Shopko Stores, a general merchandise store operator, filed a voluntary petition in Nebraska.

More than 20 U.S. retailers, including Gymboree, Sears Holdings Corp and Toys R US, have filed for bankruptcy since the start


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More than 20 U.S. retailers, including Gymboree, Sears Holdings Corp and Toys R US, have filed for bankruptcy since the start of 2017.

More than 20 U.S. retailers, including Sears Holdings Corp and Toys R US, filed for bankruptcy since the start of 2017, succumbing to the onslaught of fierce e-commerce competition from companies like Amazon Inc.

Gymboree, which started making children’s clothing more than 30 years ago, operates about 540 Gymboree stores and outlets in the United States and Canada. It also has about 265 stores across the United States under the ‘Crazy 8’ brand and 139 shops under ‘Janie and Jack’.

Gymboree Group listed assets in the range of $100 million to $500 million and liabilities of $50 million to $100 million, its court filing showed.

Gymboree earlier filed for bankruptcy protection in June 2017 and was one of the few brick-and-mortar retailers that managed to escape liquidation in a wave of bankruptcies that swept the sector.

The company said it signed an asset purchase deal with Special Situations Investing Group Inc (SSIG), an affiliate of Goldman Sachs & Co LLC, and SSIG will serve as the so-called “stalking-horse” bidder in the sale of Janie and Jack.

Gymboree has received a commitment for $30 million debtor-in-possession financing from Goldman Sachs Specialty Lending Holdings Inc and SSIG.

Gymboree, including all its U.S. subsidiaries, filed the petition in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, it said. Its Canadian arm also intends to seek bankruptcy protection in the Ontario Superior Court of Justice. 

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California Utility Tied To Devastating Wildfires To File For Bankruptcy

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Pacific Gas and Electric, the power company blamed for sparking several devastating wildfires in California in recent years, announced Monday it will file for bankruptcy later this month.

The company is facing billions of dollars in claims related to November’s Camp fire, which destroyed nearly 19,000 structures and killed at least 86 people, as well as several infernos in 2017.

The Camp fire, which obliterated the town of Paradise, is the deadliest and most destructive wildfire in California’s history and was the costliest natural disaster worldwide in 2018. The cause of the blaze is still under investigation, but CNN reported last month it is believed to have started when a PG&E power line came in contact with tree branches.

An attorney representing victims of the fire said there’s “pretty overwhelming” evidence that the utility is at fault, CNBC reported in November.

In October 2017, a series of wind-driven wildfires, aptly named the Northern California “firestorm,” ripped through several counties. Investigators with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection later determined that a dozen of those blazes were started by PG&E equipment and power lines, and that in eight of those cases the company was in violation of state laws concerning maintenance and brush clearing.

PG&E faces at least $30 billion in liabilities from damage during the 2017 and 2018 wildfire seasons. And its stock has plummeted, down 88 percent from late 2017.

The utility plans to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy around Jan. 29. The announcement comes one day after the resignation of company CEO 

“The people affected by the devastating Northern California wildfires are our customers, our neighbors and our friends, and we understand the profound impact the fires have had on our communities and the need for PG&E to continue enhancing our wildfire mitigation efforts,” interim CEO John Simon said in a statement Monday. “We remain committed to helping them through the recovery and rebuilding process.”

Simon said that a court-supervised bankruptcy “will best enable PG&E to resolve its potential liabilities in an orderly, fair and expeditious fashion.”

Newly inaugurated California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D), who has prioritized combating California’s wildfire crisis, said in a statement Monday that he will work with lawmakers and stakeholders in the coming months to find “a solution that ensures consumers have access to safe, affordable and reliable service, fire victims are treated fairly, and California can continue to make progress toward our climate goals.”

Reuters contributed to this report.

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Elon Musk’s SpaceX To Slash 10 Percent Of Staff

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In a major shakeup at Elon Musk’s aerospace company, SpaceX announced Friday that it will cut 10 percent of its employees.

Behind the move is a planned realignment of its workforce in order to meet its long-term business goals. However, it will mean a significant hit for its current labor pool, which numbers roughly 6,000 people.

In a statement, a SpaceX spokesperson told HuffPost the reduction in staff was needed so that the company could set itself up for future successes.

To continue delivering for our customers and to succeed in developing interplanetary spacecraft and a global space-based Internet, SpaceX must become a leaner company. Either of these developments, even when attempted separately, have bankrupted other organizations. This means we must part ways with some talented and hardworking members of our team.

We are grateful for everything they have accomplished and their commitment to SpaceX’s mission. This action is taken only due to the extraordinarily difficult challenges ahead and would not otherwise be necessary.

One of SpaceX’s major goals, as alluded to in its statement, has been to send tourists into space, potentially even landing humans on Mars with a project called Starship. In September, it was revealed that Japanese entrepreneur Yusaku Maezawa would be among the first passengers on the company’s voyage to the moon, which is expected to take off in 2023.

SpaceX has also embarked on a mission to beam internet services to Earth around the globe through a network of satellites dubbed Starlink, the first set of which will be deployed this year.

Despite the staffing cuts, the company has expressed confidence in its financial standing and its investors, and it plans to launch two missions of its Falcon Heavy rockets along with starting test hops of Starship before year’s end.

On Friday morning, SpaceX marked its first mission of 2019 with the launch of a Falcon 9 rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base in Southern California. 

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