The struggle to keep from falling.
I’m going to go off on a topic right now that might not be everyone’s favourite, but I have been growing increasingly depressed by the attitudes that are flying around in the US right now, and I really need to get this off my chest. You see, I am a middle class mom. I am not working right now. At this point, seeing there are no decent jobs to be had, I would be working a low-pay job just to pay for my child to attend a sub-par day care. There was no maternity leave for me to fall back on. There was nothing. So the whole idea is a wash. Until we can come up with another solution, I am not going to be doing any job except taking care of my son. And the burden of our household will rest on my husband’s shoulders.
We are struggling. We are both in our 40s and we have nothing saved. When times were good, and we were able to make ends meet, we were paying off the debts from the previous years. We have never been able to get ahead. When I got pregnant and very sick, there was a two-month period where we had no health insurance, but it was just enough time to rack up several thousand dollars in medical bills, which we've mostly paid off by drawing down my 401K from my previous job. So essentially, we only have the equity in our home (thank goodness I bought before the bubble, so we’re not upside down like so many people are), and that’s it. Every month is a tight situation. We are always on the edge of the cliff, and it is usually small graces that keep us afloat at all. We both work very hard. We do the responsible thing. We bust our asses. Dan drives 120 miles a day just in a commute. We pay our dues. We are not struggling because we are making bad decisions. We are not struggling because we are not hard workers. We are struggling because the economy is constructing itself in a way that is making it nearly impossible for us to get on our feet and start preparing for retirement. It's as simple as that.
We do not take any benefits from the government; we would probably be ‘too well off’ to qualify anyway, in spite of sometimes not having enough money to get essentials. The only time Dan collected unemployment was when he was laid off from his job of ten years, and it took him one and a half years to find another job; falling down the income ladder significantly. His time on unemployment was spent applying for jobs. Filling out hundreds of applications and attending interviews if it ever got to that point. The binder he kept to prove his job-hunting to the unemployment office ended up being so thick, it didn't fit in the file box. He applied for every job he could find that would cover his basic bills. He was competing with sometimes as many as 800 other applicants for the same job. He eventually found work. You have to take whatever is offered when you are on unemployment. There is no picking and choosing, and if you don't want that job, you lose benefits. So abusing unemployment isn't really easy.
He worked his way slowly back up the income ladder over the next few years, and then got a great job in the wind industry, where we were finally able to make ends meet. Seven years with the company, and boom… another layoff! And guess what? That income level was knocked all the way back down again, because jobs like that are not easy to find. He has been grinding away trying to find work to bring him back to that income level. And he hasn't reached that level again yet, since 2010. He also had to change jobs because he didn't have health insurance, and I was pregnant and not having an easy pregnancy. Our debts and expenses did not vary to match the change in income, which at one point went down to one third of what it was. Those still remain even today, looming over our heads like the sword of Damocles.
So we are right there at that threshold where the middle class starts to slip into poverty levels. We aren't quite there yet, but we are close. And with each passing year, and with the current political climate, things don’t look like there going to get much better. Last year, when we had no health insurance, we tried four times with four different companies to buy it ourselves, and we were declined four times for different reasons, one being I was pregnant, which is a pre-existing condition. Now that ACA/”Obamacare” exists, they can’t do that shit to people any more. If Dan hadn't been able to find that job with health insurance, we would have been fucked. We would have had a $25,000 medical bill for the birth of my child, not to mention all the follow up appointments for his vaccinations and his care. This time, if he lost his job for any reason, we would have that option to find affordable care and have that safety net so we don’t end up being bankrupted by medical bills.
We don’t collect food stamps or public funds, but I know a couple of people that do. One of those persons is a woman who works full time and has three kids and is married. Both people work, but their jobs just don’t pay very much. Not enough to pay bills and keep the kids fed and clothed. They are not lazy, they both work very hard. Neither of their jobs offer insurance of any kind. They in fact both keep them just below the full-time threshold so they don't have to provide any benefits by law, and so the couple, in spite of working crappy jobs and managing their household, has to rely on public funds to keep themselves afloat. They are not lazy. They are not stupid. They are perhaps demoralized and feel powerless as prices go up and they just seem to go nowhere.
And that is the crux of it. Demoralization. When people like them, struggle their asses off to make ends meet, and have to suck up their pride and apply to get food stamps, and then they hear people they know, and people on TV, call them ‘takers’ and ‘lazy’ and ‘unmotivated’ and ‘poor’ as if they are somehow responsible for this situation; well, it's hard not to be downtrodden when your own country shits on you for falling into a pit the country itself created.
The Vilification of the financially challenged.
The truth of the situation is this: the mythical Welfare Queen, where this whole ‘lazy taker’ mythos came from was an invention of the Reagan administration. The truth is, and these are statistics taken from the US Dept or Labor statistics website, based on the 2012 IPIA 3-Year average data report, fraud was prevalent in 2.67% of cases.
The greater majority of welfare users are not black, low-income people living off the fat of the land. In fact, the greater majority of welfare recipients are white. And they are on welfare for an average of 2 years before they are able to rejoin the workforce and support themselves again. That is just the way it is. The anecdotal story of the minority family living off of welfare for 20 years is largely a myth. The stories about people using their welfare and food stamps to buy brand-names and have their weaves put in is just a Fox News construction made to fire up the base to keep them voting republican. That is a sad, sad (and so damned racist) fact.
Also another misconception that Fox News tries to sell is that food stamp recipients are lazy. Almost 30% of households receiving food stamps are working households. Many recipients are also Senior Citizens, and even more tragically, US Veterans who haven’t had it hard enough as it is, I guess.
So here I am, slipping into a place where pride and dignity get chucked onto the wayside, and you become the ridicule of the people who have been just a bit luckier. And I get really angry when I see the ridicule.
The truth is, this country could do a great deal better for its people. And this ‘I've got mine so fuck you’ attitude that is oddly, coming mainly from the right, is so short-sighted and self-destructive and I cannot believe that these people cannot even see the error of their own ways, even for the sake of self preservation. In their quest to scrabble to a place where they can look down and ‘haw-haw’ on others, they are shooting themselves in the foot. And they are so consumed by resentment and bitterness and selfishness, they cannot even see it.
The sad reality is that all this finger pointing, all this name calling, all this vilification and belittling of the ‘poor’ is just a means for someone to feel less guilty about being completely selfish. It’s as simple as that. It is a justification for self-absorption. It is a way of avoiding taking any responsibility for the society that sustains you. It is deflection. It is hoping that nobody will see your very deep and terrible flaws if you just say that someone is worse than you.
You see, not everybody is going to be lucky forever, and not everybody is going to have things work their way. The truth is, every single person save for a tiny percentage of our society (and that’s even questionable), is just one step away from oblivion, and to arrogantly stand inside one’s cookie cutter house, filled to the brim with credit-purchased toys and gadgets and point at people who live humbly, or people who have struggled and that have a hard time and to call them lazy and takers because they are in a crappy situation is just absolutely despicable. And it is hubris.
I have a relative who was in the military and after being discharged worked without a problem for many years. Apparently she had a traumatic experience while in service; and nothing was done about it. She has had PTSD from it. Then she got fired from her job. Then, she saw an news article where they were discussing how the government has been awarding SSI for PTSD in record numbers, so she applied, and with her diagnosis, got 60% benefits. She also enjoys ‘vocational rehab’ which means the government is also paying for her to go to school. Now I am not arguing whether or not she should have these benefits. My issue of contention is that she is one of the people who posts stuff on Facebook about lazy takers. For someone who had a job competently up until she got SSI, she sure has a lot of gall to sit there in judgment of anyone and say they are lazy. It’s all a matter of perspective. She doesn't know their story, who is she to sit there and assume that nobody else has a good a reason to justify taking public funds, except her? Who is she? That rattles my cage tremendously.
That’s the problem. Every homeowner in this country gets welfare. It’s called the ‘real estate tax deduction’. Their kids attend public schools. They drive public roads. They are protected by a public police force. Their bodies are protected from harmful toxins and chemicals being released into the environment by a public agency that regulates these things. They use publicly built electrical grids to power their homes. They type out their hateful Facebook posts on an internet the public built. Everybody enjoys the benefits of public funds. How is it that when people are in trouble, their asking for help is somehow different? How is it that it is okay to vilify and shit on the poor people because they are having a difficult time? How is it their fault, or their bad decisions? Do the rest of the people not make bad decisions? Of course they do. And worst of all, how can the same people who scream and shout that the ‘lazy people’ and immigrants are taking their resources, and that’s the reason this country is going to hell, take advantage of those same services and be justified in doing so? It’s like the Oregon Timber industry crying out for their timber payments, when the same people decry government intervention. Isn’t the American way to figure out how to succeed without government assistance? Why is that suddenly a problem for you? It’s like the farmers voting republican, but taking billions in subsidies and tax deductions from the government. It’s like the Duggars, who have their house registered as a church, so the whole clan can exist without paying a dime in taxes while they clog up our airtime with their utter non-relevance.
My step-father in law sits in front of Fox News all day, parroting the unbelievable misinformation day in and day out. The irony is, he is retired very comfortably on his union pension and his social security. He gets raises when the still-working people in his previous employment get raises. And yet here he is, crooning the Republican mantras, voting for people who want to abolish unions and cut social security. It is a very sad, sad thing to see.
Selfishness is an acceptable state of being in this country. In fact, it’s promoted and encouraged as the way Americans should be. If you don’t do well, it’s just something you must be doing. It’s your fault. You are a lazy loser and you deserve what you get. That’s the prevailing attitude of the right, and that is as awful and ridiculous as it sounds.
Whining liberals, righteous conservatives.
Being a good, compassionate, caring person is a bad thing in America. Anywhere else, it is a laudable goal to work towards. There is a strange, weird selective blindness among many American Christians to the reality that many of their own exercise this attitude while claiming to follow Christ’s teachings. The same people that say this; that cling to their religion and claim righteousness, are the very same people that admonish the poor, that vote against their own interests, promote intolerance of homosexuality and the degradation of women. They are in essence, the least Christ-like. Liberalism has become a bad word. But if you read the basic definition, it sounds very much what being an American is supposed to mean:
lib·er·al [lib-er-uhl, lib-ruhl] adjective1. favorable to progress or reform, as in political or religious affairs. 2. noting or pertaining to a political party advocating measures of progressive political reform. 3. of, pertaining to, based on, or advocating liberalism, especially the freedom of the individual and governmental guarantees of individual rights and liberties. 4. favorable to or in accord with concepts of maximum individual freedom possible, especially as guaranteed by law and secured by governmental protection of civil liberties. 5. favoring or permitting freedom of action, especially with respect to matters of personal belief or expression: a liberal policy toward dissident artists and writers
However, someone came along and decided that being a liberal is a weakness. As if being a human being that cares about others is somehow a terrible, undesirable state of being. As if desiring change and progress is a crime. As if wanting a better world for your children is the worst possible thing a human being can desire. Instead, the idea of being selfish, being uncaring, taking no responsibility for anything except for yourself is somehow the commendable choice. To be a conservative is to be strong and bold. To be successful. That is the idea they seem to cling to. But in all truth, to be conservative is to be selfish and insular. To be conservative is to claim a love for freedom, and to decry the government and government control—except when you want to impose your ideologies on others, of course. To be conservative is, ultimately, to be a bully. A cowardly, wholly self-absorbed, willfully ignorant delusional bully. The sad psychology behind this is that conservatives want to have the image of a big truck driving, gun toting, freedom loving every-man—they strive to make it to that hallowed pedestal of the 1%, but likely never will. They believe that success is their doing only. That people who are not successful didn't try as hard as they did when in all truth their success is created on the backs of others, on the framework the liberals of society pushed for, and sometimes on blind luck. They foster their ideologies by surrounding themselves with material wants, and they shout and scream with all their bluster against the anyone that might have different ideals. But ultimately it is a colossal sense of powerlessness and fear that drives them. Change is bad. Intellectualism is bad. Progress is bad. Compassion is bad. All the qualities that make us so irrevocably human… bad.
Socialism bad. We don’t wanna live like Europeans
Many Americans cannot stretch their imaginations beyond the US borders. In fact, for most folks, it hardly surpasses their own states and cities. But there is ::gasp:: a whole world out there. Countries filled with people. Countries much older than the USA. Countries that have had ups and downs and ins and outs much more than the fledgling nation with the big ego. A lot of people go through life thinking that the USA is so great and so grand and so amaze-balls, that it really has nothing to learn from other nations. Americans cannot even begin to imagine what it would be like to live a little more responsibly. They see that as oppression. As … Yes, I’m gonna say it… SOCIALISM!! DUN DUN DUUUUNNN.
Most republicans don’t really understand what socialism is or anything else that is foreign. And they cling to the occasional anecdote they heard from a friend of a friend to basically define their entire attitude about it. But the truth is, socialist programs are pervasive throughout the world in varying degrees, including in America. And the only countries where there is the most oppression are not among the ones providing successful social programming as a framework to eradicate poverty and improve the quality of life.
You see, in Europe, there are still plenty of douchebags driving around in large vehicles and living in tacky big houses. There’s no shortage of conservative idiots. But alongside those parallels with the US, there are things like universal medicine for all. Not perfect by any means, but definitely better than what is happening here in the US. Many folks say: Oh, why do we need to change anything? I have insurance and I like it just fine. Well… 1) Sorry, but it’s not all about you. And 2) just because it doesn't affect you doesn't mean it isn't happening to everyone else. Try and step out of your selfish little me-bubble and look around once in a while. Having to wait a bit in a waiting room, or share a hospital room (if you don’t want to pay extra) seems a reasonable price to pay for me, so that other people who couldn't have access to care normally, finally could. You see, I don’t think health care should be like tacky McMansions. It should not be something that only a certain income bracket can afford to have. And if you do believe that, then you are a shitty person. That is just the plain truth. And a shitty Christian if you are one of those.
Working parents have access to sliding-scale day cares for children in Europe. School is free, and it’s high-quality and it creates well-educated products. College is available to anyone that wants to go in most countries. Police and fire and emergency services are free. Yes, you have to pay for it. But it seems to me that I would rather live in a world where municipal services actually respond and are decently paid, where an ambulance ride doesn't mean I have to take a second loan out on my home, and where there are enough resources to keep the peace.
Some countries still have doctors that make house calls. Pharmacy purchases are negligible if not free. These are not entitlements, these are resources that the society agreed to pay together. And if there is a minority that doesn't want to play along, well, too bad. You have to pay taxes. It’s what grow-ups do. If people are in crisis, there are places to go to get help. To get job training. To get food assistance. To get unemployment benefits until you can find work. There are systems in place to make sure these resources are not squandered on the occasional abuser. Again, nobody expects perfection. That’s impossible when human beings are involved. There are dicks everywhere you go and they like to do dicky things. But you find ways to work around them so everyone else who isn't a dick can keep going along.
Homogenous nations – what a pile of bullshit
My eldest brother offered me the argument one day that: “Europe is a lot more homogeneous, and that’s why that stuff works there. The US is not, so it wouldn't work here.” Well… sorry Bro, but that is 100% bullshit. Anyone who has lived in Europe knows Europe is ANYTHING BUT homogeneous. You drive two to three hours and you can enter a different culture. Each country in Europe has hordes of minority groups. They have massive groups of Muslims and the Sharia crap to deal with, they have African émigrés, they have all sorts of cultural upheaval every day, and they also have a much more proactive political state, where riots are not like occupy where people sit and get sprayed in the face by douchebag cops, they throw Molotov cocktails and cops have to wear riot gear not for appearances, but because the rioters mean business. That rarely happens in the US. Politics are always in flux in Europe. So do not say Europe is a jug of fucking homogenized milk. It is vodka, a layer of apple liqueur, whiskey, beer and ten thousand varieties of wine. Don't get me started on the cheeses.
The US on the other hand, well, the only way you can tell you've gone from one state to the next is the geography and the accent. It's McDonalds and coke and yellow cheese food. Talk about homogenized. Please. So don’t use the adage that America is too diverse for universal change. That’s just crap. The truth is, people just need to decide to change and just do it. The curmudgeons can hide in their homes and peer out from between their blinds and mumble and grumble to their heart’s content, but they will have to embrace that change too eventually. Don’t say it can’t happen. Just look at the New Deal and tell me it can’t happen. That is a closed-minded, narrow mindset. Change is good. It is what made America so damned great once upon a time. Innovation, progress… we used to be the masters of that stuff. Now, we’re importing our doctors from India while our schools produce students that can barely spell and cannot figure out the difference between their, there and they’re.
So stop with the hate and the vitriol against others.
I say enough. Enough of the name calling and the finger pointing, it will not stop the world from seeing your own failures. Enough hatred against people who live differently than you. Enough pushing your ideologies into the face of people who really want nothing to do with it. Enough bawling about ridiculous things while the rest of the world implodes around you. There are places outside of your own little circle, and people that matter that aren't you. Enough belittling and degrading of women. Enough imposing of your ideologies on the bodies of women. Enough digging for reasons to hate someone because you don’t want anyone to see the real reason you do. Enough hiding behind your religion to judge and oppress others. Enough crying persecution because someone criticized you. The world isn't all about you. It does not revolve around your beliefs or your ideologies. It does not have to follow your personal rules to make things convenient for you. If you want to live selfishly, then own up to living selfishly and stop turning blame onto others. If you want to be a dick, then at least take responsibility for being a dick. Take responsibility for the reasons you feel so compelled to direct so much of your vitriol and hatred onto people you know absolutely nothing about, and understand that your reasons for being a taker are not better than any one else's reasons. Enough. Enough. Enough.