Today, the cash-strapped people who earn meager salaries, or have run out of unemployment benefits and can’t find work, are literally selling parts of themselves as their only means of carrying on.
Selling body parts is not a new idea, but it’s being done more and more by more people today who never dreamed of doing such things.
For years, male college student have been using the bounty of their sperm to earn money for everything from books to beer busts. More people are taking lessons from them and giving up parts of themselves to meet expenses.
Selling off one’s hair, sperm, eggs, blood or participating in medical studies may be one of the ultimate signs of just how bad the economy is for many people.
"Economic times are hard
now, but for me they were also hard last semester and the semester before. This is a good way where I am making money and not having to work a full-time job," Melanie Burnett, a kinesiology (study of how the body moves) major at California State University, Northridge.
Last year Burnett earned $6,000 selling her eggs to a fertility clinic, and this spring she expects to earn a similar amount.
Fertility clinics in and around Los Angeles are reporting an up-tick in business. California Cryobank reported that during the past 18 months, donations by men are up 15 percent, and egg donations up by 25 percent.
Some women are even resorting to renting out their uteruses to be surrogate mothers.
Dr. Jeffrey Steinberg, director of the Fertility Institutes California-Nevada, said some women, who are able to make several egg donations a year have been earning as much as $40,000 annually.
"We've had a spike not only in egg donors but also in surrogates," Steinberg added. "People are looking at more creative ways to get money. Even donors from two and three years ago are coming back to do it again."
When it comes to sperm donations, UCLA senior Jordan Meyers said, "Every so often you see ads in The Daily Bruin where they're seeking sperm donors, but they've got to attend UCLA, USC, Stanford or Harvard." Although he said he’s never been a donor, he knows students who have been.
Giving up a pint of blood to buy a pint of whiskey has long been a Skid Row tradition. No longer.
A representative of Advance Biological Services Blood and Plasma Center said that on “any given day” their waiting room is pack with people. Many are averaging $240 a month for bi-weekly donations.
Its shades of O’Henry’s Gift of the Magi
, which is getting their cut of the business, too. They pay from $150 to $2,500 for hair depending on its length, texture and color.
"Because of the economy, we've experienced about a 40 percent increase over the last few months," a company spokesman said.
For those not willing or able to give up part of themselves, they are taking advantage of hundreds of medical studies that are offered across the country.
Thousands of dollars can be earned by participating in clinical trials where various medical conditions are studied, or by being human guinea pigs and testing experimental drugs.
Taking a dim view of all of this is Beverly Hills psychiatrist Dr. Nancy Lieberman, whose specialty is human behavior.
"What makes it really sad and distressing is that these are people who wouldn't ordinarily choose to sell parts of themselves," Lieberman said. "It's just so primitive and animalistic: selling a part of yourself and being forced to reach down to the bottom of your resources."
Taking a less critical view is Allen Martin, a professor of family finances at CSUN.
“It's a sign of how hard times are and that when people are desperate, they will do anything to make some extra cash," Martin said.