Commentary: How Can We Thrive When We Can Barely Survive?

Natalie Copeland grew up in central Minnesota. She taught middle school choir in Georgia and worked in the church sector for over a decade. In 2015, she founded Unite Cloud, a nonprofit working to reduce racial, religious, and cultural tensions in central Minnesota. She is a trainer with the Community Anti-Racism Education (CARE) Team at Saint Cloud State University, a member of the Saint Cloud Area School Board, and was appointed to the Minnesota Governor’s Task Force on Equity and Inclusion. 

I’m a single mom of three teenagers. I am college educated and working in a professional field. My salary is in line with the current market rate of my position. 

Still, the last week of the month is scary. Every. Single. Month. 

I make magic happen, using the random food items in my kitchen, to put together a meal when I don’t have the funds to grocery shop. We don’t take vacations. I rarely buy new clothing for myself. My kids who are old enough have jobs to pay for the gas in their car. 

I recently bought a new comforter for my bed. As I crawled into bed that night, I thought about what a luxury the blanket was and how much privilege I have to be under a new, warm blanket in a warm house where my kids are all warm and safe.

I thought about the kids who go to school with my kids in central Minnesota who are experiencing homelessness in the middle of the winter. Amazingly, these kids still show up to school after sleeping on the couch at their aunt’s house, or in a family car in which their mom turns the heat on every few hours to warm them up.

My kids and I have a lot. I try to help my kids understand how good we have it, even if I don’t have the money to give them in order to see the latest Marvel movie with their friends. 

With the continued effects of the pandemic on my family’s health, the nonprofit I work for, and the district whose school board I serve on — along with the rising cost of everything — it is hard to visualize a time in the future where we will finally climb out of survival mode.

I know I am not alone in this feeling. Yet we hear leaders across Minnesota brag about some of the lowest unemployment rates in history. My town, Saint Cloud, was at 1.7 percent unemployment in October 2022, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

For the people I hear behind me in line at Target saying that people “just don’t want to work anymore,” be careful what you believe about your neighbors — and be even more careful to watch who is trying to sell you that BS and why. 

Nearly all of us are working, yet most of us seem to be worse off than ever. Why?

Yes, costs for everything have risen consistently since the beginning of the pandemic, so says the Consumer Price Index. We all feel it, especially at the pump and at the grocery store. We feel it on the first of the month when the rent check is due.

Those feelings were validated by a study that came out recently from Dwellsy, an online renter marketplace. The study showed that Saint Cloud was third in that nation for the steepest rise in rental prices, skyrocketing 102.2 percent from October 2021 to October 2022.

Nope, I didn’t say third in Minnesota — third in the nation. Dang. 

What are we to do? How is any of this sustainable? What, if anything, can be done?

For now, I will be juggling my three jobs, raising three kids, and attempting to keep one of my three animals out of my Zoom meeting screen.

Originally published online December 7; printed in the February “Money” Guide.