For the fourth annual Nation Student Writing Contest, we asked students to send us an original, unpublished, 800-word essay detailing how the recession had affected them. We received hundreds of submissions from high school and college students in forty-four states. We chose one college and one high school winner and eight finalists total. The winners are Jim Miller of Henderson State University in Arkansas and Deborah Ghim of Buffalo Grove High School in Illinois. You can read the essays at The winners receive a cash award of $1,000 and the finalists, $250 each. All receive Nation subscriptions. This contest was made possible by the BIL Charitable Trust to recognize and reward the best in student writing and thinking.   –The Editors

We all know we are in a recession and, let’s face it, times are tough. Almost everyone I know has been affected by this recession. My family, my friends, and myself. Around the time my teacher gave me this assignment, I went around my school, my house, even my church asking this question: how has the recession affected you? Everyone I asked had something to say about this question. Some more than others. Some even got emotional about it. This is what they had to say.

First, I went around asking my friends at school. I asked about ten to fifteen friends. They all had something to say, but two stood out to me the most. One was my friend Steven. He had been saving up half of every paycheck for a little more than two years. His hope was to have enough money to buy a car for himself by graduation. Graduation is three weeks away. A couple of months ago, his father was laid off from his job. Steven felt he had to help his dad relieve some financial stress so he gave his parents the money he had been saving up for his car. Over $2,000. One thing he said will stay with me forever. He said, “It hurt, but I had to do it. I’d do it again if I had to.”

Another person I asked was my friend Veronica. Her biggest dream, since the ninth grade, was to go to her senior prom. Like Steven’s, her dad also lost his job and they were struggling. Unfortunately, she had no money to pay for all the expenses for the prom. Thankfully, she has amazing friends who all pitched in to pay for her dress and ticket.

My friends aren’t the only people this recession has affected. My very own family has been hit hard as well. Although we have not lost our house, we are pretty close to it. My father is a truck driver. When he started off in this business, the money was great. We were living great and no problems with money. Ever. There was always enough money, and then some. My father paid for everything and my mother never had to work. My dad would go off on trips once a week and the pay for that would be sufficient. Unfortunately, the recession has hit the trucking business. My father barely makes enough money to pay for his big rig. And he is a few months behind on his everyday car. He is always away on trips and home for one or two days out of the week. This brings me to my mother. Since our financial problems started my mother had to get not one, but two jobs. She works almost every day. I hardly get to see her too. The rest of my family has not been as lucky either. I have an aunt who is currently living with my brother because she lost her house a couple of months back.

If the recession were a disease, it would be an epidemic. I can see the recession all over my neighborhood like the face of a child who is sick. I see signs going up everywhere. “For Sale.” People just cannot afford a mortgage payment. I thank God for always helping my family to find a way to make the house payments, put food on the table and put clothes on our backs.

Now as to how the recession has affected me directly, I am always broke, for one thing. I never have a dime on me. I cannot buy the things I would like to. I do not really have a decent pair of shoes. When my dad made good money, he would buy me whatever I wanted. Before things got bad, I would go out all the time. I would go to the movies or to the barbershop to get my hair cut almost every weekend. Not anymore. You are probably wondering why I don’t get a job. Well, that’s because no one wants to hire anyone right now, and if they do they want someone with experience. Right now people are getting fired, not hired.

Senior year was supposed to be the best year of high school. I did not go to prom because I did not have any way of paying for it. I was not going to ask my parents because they have it hard enough as it is. All the cool, fun things I was going to do for senior year is long gone. I go to school and come home. That is my life.

This recession has affected everyone from child to adolescent to adult. It has taught me to appreciate everything I have because I might not always have it. And I think there is no better way to teach someone the value of a dollar or about financial responsibility than a recession. I think it is everyone’s hope that one day this recession is a thing of the past.