From Eastern Europe to New York to the West Coast
Ildiko Erdesz, 70, is all too familiar with today’s America, of growing wealth disparity, jobs which pay too little, not being able to pay skyrocketing rent on time, and health costs which can derail an entire family. Her long and varied life story all point to these unfortunate all too common realities.
She grew up in Hungary studying music and art. She initially made a living as a singer alongside her sister. She met her husband while on tour in Finland, and the two of them married and moved to New York City in 1971. In the Big Apple, Erdesz worked in textile design while her husband made his career as a freelance artist; designing catalogs and book covers. They had a daughter, Julianna, in 1984, and moved upstate.
The family stayed on the east coast until the early 90s, when relatives in Quincy, California, asked if they were willing to help run the hotel that they owned.
Unfortunately, after moving to California, Erdesz’ husband fell seriously ill. As his sickness worsened, the family was forced to move once again.
Turning to Cleaning to Pay Medical Bills and Her Daughter’s College
Ildiko then started working for a cleaning company, but she saw little money herself. Unable to pay the growing number of medical bills, she decided to start working independently. Throughout all of these challenges, she still had her family, and had hope.
“My daughter was amazing, and always helped take care of [her dad]. It was a hard time, and we didn’t qualify for any state help because I was working and able to continue working. It was a difficult time, but we managed it and we were okay.”
The Erdesz family loved visiting the Reno area, and eventually moved for more work opportunities. Juliana graduated from a performing arts high school in Reno in 2003, but her father, Ildiko’s husband, ended up passing away at the end of that same year. After his passing, Ildiko continued cleaning to help support her daughter through college and pay off remaining medical bills.
“I had so many doctor bills and everything, so I had to clear those out, and try to clear the credit cards out. It was a very very hard time. And I couldn’t pay my rent, it was very stressful. I was not the type of person to ask for help, but I did ask my very best friend to help me with rent one time. And I of course paid them back later, but that was a savior at that time.”
Erdesz had some life insurance money from her husband, but it was nowhere near enough to pay all of the existing and upcoming expenses.
“I had $25,000 in life insurance on him that we got when my daughter was born. So I tried not to touch that money because it was emergency money. We got the life insurance around 1985, which was enough money back then, but not anymore,” she said.
Working Seven Days a Week and Facing Her Own Health Battles
These days, Ildiko cleans seven days a week, for four regular clients. She often also works odd jobs such as house sitting, nannying, or dog walking to supplement her income.
“I could take a day off myself, but if something comes up I always take it because I never know. This job is not very secure… In 2008 and 2014-15 the first thing that people cut back was housekeeping. The recession hurt me, I wasn’t working too much,” she said when asked why she works so often, and regularly late into the night.
Three years ago, she slipped on ice and broke her leg, and was out of work for five weeks before she was back vacuuming with a cast. She was also diagnosed with cancer, which she says was cured by living in an intensive all-natural rehabilitation facility in Florida for several weeks. Since then she has been eating healthier.
“I need to do this as long as I can, and as long as my health will let me because I’m not ready to live on my Social Security yet. I plan on working until at least 77 or 78. At least… But of course maybe later on I can just cut back and only clean a couple offices a week. It’s hard to cut back now because I don’t really have a lot of luxury in my life. My most enjoyable (time) is taking a walk or going to the gym.”
Throughout it all, Ildiko maintains an incredibly positive attitude. She cleans for hours on end, and does it again the next day. Her artistic talent and attention to detail show through in her work.
“It’s a rewarding job. Every time when I finish cleaning a house, and walk through and make sure I didn’t miss anything, I stand back and enjoy what I did,” she said.