broadsideblog

Rising costs, falling income, and waving at the Rockefeller helicopter

In aging, behavior, business, cities, culture, domestic life, journalism, life, Money, urban life, US, work on April 25, 2013 at 11:02 am
Money Queen

Money Queen (Photo credit: @Doug88888)

By Caitlin Kelly

Here’s an honest, powerful and deeply depressing blog post about what American life when your income is falling and costs going through the roof:

Hubby left and again, he had to stop off at the gas station to fill up his car.  He drives around 150 miles per day for his job.  And yes! he drives a fuel efficient car that gets between 35 and 40mpg.  But it’s not working out like we planned.  With the cost of gas at over $4.15 a gallon (and still rising) and the tightness of available money, it’s becoming a nightmare, with no end in sight.

While at the gas pump, the woman in the next booth came over to my husband and asked him if he had any money to give her.  “I need money to buy gas” she said “to get to work.  I don’t have any money to buy gas to get to work nor even come back from work and get home.  Do you have any money to give me, man?” DH then realized the reality of our own financial predicament. He told the woman that he had just been fighting with his own wife over the tightness of money and our own inability to buy food and gas and pay looming tax bills.

The only money I have that I can give you is this dollar bill,” he said and handed the woman the paper dollar bill I found in the parking lot yesterday.

I had breakfast the other morning, (total cost $11.00 for both, plus $1.00 for parking), with a friend who is single and freelancing and faces monthly living costs of $4,000; just her rent and health insurance is $2,000 every month. She has no savings anymore, having won and lost several jobs in our field over the past few years.

She has worked her whole life, like me, in journalism, and at 58 knows that the odds of finding a new full-time job that allows her to meet her living costs and save for retirement are slim-to-none.

Going back to college? For her, financially impossible. Taking some sort of quick, cheap credential? Maybe — but, really, given a choice of a 30, 40 or 58-year-old, who’s going to hire someone that age?

For millions of hard-working, educated, skilled and experienced Americans, a hand-to-mouth existence is the new normal. Especially those over the age of 50.

Here’s a powerful recent story from the Los Angeles Times about how work, even for the most highly educated, is changing for the worse:

Matt Ides has a doctorate in history and extensive teaching experience. Unable to find a full-time, tenure-track job, he took an adjunct teaching position at Eastern Michigan University, where he was paid $3,500 per class. He taught five classes one semester and four the next. One more class and the university would have had to consider him a full-time employee under university policy.

If not for his girlfriend’s salary, he said, “I would have had to live in a one-room apartment and eat soup every day.”

I moved to the U.S. in January 1988. As a brand-new driver, I was exquisitely attuned to the costs of owning, insuring and fueling a vehicle. Gas, then, cost 89 cents a gallon — today, it’s between $3.90 and $4.15 or more.

The price of groceries has shot through the roof. The cost of commuting to New York City, a daily necessity for my husband who works there, and for me to meet with clients and actually enjoy Manhattan occasionally, just rose, again, by 10 percent.

Jose and some others at his workplace are represented by a union, initially offered a 0 percent (yes) raise by his employer, The New York Times. They won a fat 2 percent a year — and the Times is considered, by some, a career pinnacle, a place you work long and hard to achieve.

I recently pulled out some old paperwork, and found an invoice from 1997 — 16 years ago — for $900. I just accepted an assignment last week from the Times for $900.

Nothing, anywhere — shoes, clothes, food, gas, insurance, dental bills, haircuts — costs what it did 16 years ago. Anyone attending university in the U.S. knows this firsthand, as tuition costs have skyrocketed, while incomes are stagnant and jobs hard to find.

Here’s the story of a graduate student at Duke, (named for the tobacco fortune family who founded it), who lived in a van in a parking lot so he could actually afford school. In a van.

Money - Black and White Money

Money – Black and White Money (Photo credit: @Doug88888)

Few of us are less educated, more stupid, more lazy or unwilling to work hard than we were 10 or 15 or 20 years ago.

Stagnant and falling wages for most of us are simply killing our desire, and ability, to get ahead of our monthly basic costs– to save for short or long-term needs, whether retirement, car repair, education, medical bills or (imagine), a vacation.

I’ve thought about moving far upstate, where we could probably buy an old house for cash and pay very little in property taxes. Socially? Death. Professionally, nothing would be there for my husband, who makes almost three times what I do. Making an even longer commute — with less time for himself and for us? Not a great option either.

So, moving isn’t really a smart choice. Neither Jose or I, (both award-winning veterans in our field), have advanced degrees, so no teaching jobs are open to us, even as a poorly-paid adjunct.

I had lunch recently with an editor who did exactly that, moved to the Catskills with her husband and baby. She lasted two miserable, lonely, broke years and now lives back in Manhattan.

We could, I suppose, go to a much smaller, rural place somewhere very far away in the Midwest — distant from our friends, colleagues, neighbors and social networks. But I tried rural life, for 18 months when I was 30. Sorry, for those who thrive on it, I hated it, never so lonely, broke and miserable in my life. Unless in that other place you have dear friends, loving family and/or steady work that will really help you thrive, I don’t see much appeal in moving anywhere else at this point.

And every day, right over my head, I hear the sound of income inequality — as a helicopter thud-thud-thuds across the sky very close to my balcony. It’s a Rockefeller, flying to work in Manhattan, 25 miles south; their huge, gated estate lies about a 10-minute drive north of our town.

How’s things with you these days financially?

Are you as worried as I am?

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  1. As long as our runaway government insists on spending money it doesn’t have on things we don’t really need and printing money at the rate they are, things are going to get even worse. The dollar keeps declining and those in Washington refuse to stop. I hate to make this a political thing but , oh well, the truth is the truth. Now we can’t keep air traffic controllers but we can fund studies of snail darter mating habits. Good to know we have our priorities straight.

    • As usual I agree with some of your argument while disagreeing with some of it as well.

    • Agreed. I think most of us need an education on economics and how our government policies effect our lives.

      • When I grew up in Canada we never got classes in civics — which I believe (?) many Americans once did. Not sure if that is still the case. I am amazed and dismayed by how little people seem to know about the levers of power and who holds them.

      • I really see little knowledge about economics out there. Both micro and macro. I never got such an education in school and it’s ridiculous. Before we vote we need to understand these things.

      • These should be mandatory in high school. Forget algebra — this is what we need to know every day to make smart(er) decisions.

  2. Follow the Metro North train line. You can pick a town along the track that will offer you both a lower cost of living plus access to NYC. I know. Because that’s what we did. DH can still drive in and I can take the train. As for writing gigs, I can get them…….providing the publisher never meets me. Once they see my (beautiful) white hair, I’m immediately told the job has been filled. Ageism is alive and well once you get in to your 50’s. Good luck with everything, however. I only wish you the best.

    Thanks for linking to my story.

  3. File this one under #CouldBeWorse, Ms. Malled…

    [G&M] – Vancouver Sun, The Province offering employee buyouts

    …”The Vancouver Sun and The Province newspapers will offer their employees buyouts to deal with “unprecedented revenue declines,” their publisher said in a memo to employees that bluntly warned that unless changes were made the papers wouldn’t be likely to survive a drop in print advertising.

    The papers, both owned by Postmedia Network Inc., have co-existed for decades as separate entities but appear destined to share more resources as the company tries to find ways to cut losses and reinvent them as increasingly digital focused offerings. The memo warns there will be layoffs after the buyouts, for the first time in “many, many years” and asks employees to consider whether they are doing the most they can to help the company turn itself around.”…

    http://tinyurl.com/d7fmn3s

    [NoteToMs.Malled: Doesn't sound like much fun in the trenches anymore, does it?]

    • [BloomBerg] – Waitresses Stuck at $2.13 Hourly Minimum for 22 Years

      …”Gina Deluca says she was shocked when she moved to New Mexico from California and discovered that her hourly wage as a waitress fell to a federal minimum of $2.13. Her old state required at least $6.75 for all workers at the time. Deluca says she became more dependent on tips, which varied with bill size, the seasons and customers’ moods, and her total income fell. While federal law requires employers to cover the gap if tips don’t take workers at least to the regular full minimum, now $7.25, Deluca says hers didn’t.

      “The difference in San Francisco was that I felt valued,” said Deluca, 42, who served at both diners and high-end restaurants before quitting two years ago to pursue a degree in social work. Today her blog, “Wiser Waitress,” focuses on issues involving restaurant workers, including the federal minimum wage for workers who receive tips.

      While states can require higher minimums, New Mexico and 12 other states use the federal level, which hasn’t been raised in 22 years. “I always had a base wage that I could count on,” Deluca said. “That brought a little bit of stability and security.”…

      http://tinyurl.com/d6fddns

    • Hence the frenzied search for new and unexplored trenches.

  4. Companies have relied upon short term cost cutting policies to show gains for so long that they are now being bitten on the other end because their customer base can’t afford to buy their products because they have been squeezed by their own employer for too long. (Meanwhile the fat cats are purrfectly pleased with their own compensation and purchasing ability.)
    We need GROWTH innovation to provide new job opportunities for us 99% and the potential to get beyond subsistence living.
    That and larger companies need to also consider longer term (i.e. expansion) options for improved investor returns – and increased customer bases.

    • Thanks for your detailed comment….much appreciate your insights on this.

      It seems obvious that people with no discretionary income cannot prop up an economy based 70 percent on consumer spending.

    • YES! While I also think we should pay people on the “bottom” a decent wage, just because it’s the right thing to do, respect and fairness and all that especially for companies that can afford it, the truth is, the best way now to improve the lives of all the working people is to have a vibrant and diverse economy that can “pick up” everyone. The more opportunity the more competition for workers and wages would naturally go up AND the added costs would not likely ruin a business because the economy is good.

  5. I don’t have as many financial responsibilities as most adults do yet, but I think I’m worried about paying college and rent for the most part. Good thing I’m working 2 jobs this summer. It might get me above 6K in the bank this summer.

  6. The problem I have with this post is that even though it discusses money problems it still falls way short of connecting to the average person experiencing the brink of poverty, and blames the rich whose habits are largely supported by the masses.

    • I don’t understand your comment…if this point falls “way short” feel free to make a counter argument. Simply hand flapping does not add to the conversation.

    • 1. The average person actually isn’t on the brink of poverty. But it is true that too many are.

      2. There is a huge trend in people finding ways to cut costs and save money. Homemade and organic (not pre-fab or store bought) is spreading through the country (again-we recycle this every 20 years or so like it’s some novel idea) like wildfire because, as you say in your post, people notice that they need to take responsibility for what they buy.

      3. Every demographic and location differs in necessary expenses. What one might need to survive in small town South TX is very, very different than expenses necessary to downtown Manhattan, Chicago, or Suburban L.A. $4000/month for expenses isn’t that odd in NY, even for a drafty 6-floor walk-up with 3 cockroaches and a rat for flat mates.

      4. Advocating smart consumerism is absolutely, 100% correct. However, to deny the poor-gouging by the wealthy is letting crooks dictate the kind of society we live in. For example:

      Say a person buys smart, raises chickens, homeschools, and thinks they’ve found the key to the perfect, sustainably, healthy lifestyle. That’s fantastic…until the Koch brothers buy the property and chuck the family to the curb to put up a casino. They convince the municipality to foot the bill through bonds (residential tax burden), increased local sales taxes, and increased property taxes. Then staffs it with undocumented workers. They get the profits, the town can’t even cash in on tourism dollars from incoming gamblers because in less than a year, they’ve put up a bigger, shinier one in the next town over. They unload the casino on the bank, who sells it at a loss, and the town is stuck with a run down eyesore they have to continue to support and haven’t even begun to pay for. After another year of operating at a loss, the casino drains the town dry.

      Then AIG et. all makes made derivative swaps again since they didn’t get in any trouble last time, then tanks, which crashes all the property values in Casinotown’s area. Not just Casinotown, but every town in Casinocounty until Casinodistrict 39 is bankrupt. Soon the entire population of city spenders and homesteaders has starving children because the banks own the land, the rents skyrocket, and the city passes a No Chickens ordinance.

      What are they going to do?

      What if these blue collar workers have no college education or no job training (which is common in many small towns across America)? Oh, that’s right, it doesn’t matter because local industry shipped all the jobs to Asia and shut down 3 years ago. (That’s why Casinoland sounded like a good deal to a city council that was too stupid to find a more creative way to boost its economy and banked on government assistance to skate them by).

      Now there’s one, town grocery, and it’s barely able to pay its light bill because the local utility company is actually just a satellite of a gigantic energy corporation based in Dubai. The store pays a 150% mark-up on its stock staples: bread, milk, cheese, eggs, flour, and butter because the distributors are struggling to transport within budget with $4/gal fuel, commercial licensing fees, government regulatory costs, and vehicle repair costs that are more expensive because parts dealers and manufacturers have to compete with low cost/crappy material parts from Chongqing that are flooding the US market and in higher demand as consumer have less and less to spend, but need to fix there cars because they can’t live within walking distance. Jobs are scarce all over, so if you have to commute 45 minutes in Denver traffic for $10/hr., you f*cking do it.

      Back to the little store. The items it sells are not local of course for the reasons listed above, and because the population migrated to the jobs, so even if the town could grow food, there was not enough people or food to hold a farmer’s market.the food on the shelves that the homesteaders are now forced to buy are shipped in from some corporate farm in Los Angeles who pays its illegal workers $20/day, but makes over $10 billion in annual profits.

      So, no one has a job, the town’s dried up, and out-of-pocket doctor visits for 6 kids when the holistic cures didn’t work is a minimum of $125 each, just to walk in the door and inhale the toxic, industrial-carpet fumes and get treated like a 1860 n***er, by some fat, bitchy nurse who doesn’t even live in this craphole of a county, so why should she give all y’all white trash the time of day anyhow? Sign here. Cash only.

      How much good did ignoring the corporate greed model do those crafty little homemakers? Sometimes you have to adjust to what your environment gives you until Utopia comes along.

      We must all do both: shop AND grow (food) smart. But to make more opportunities for everyone to pursue this agrarian ideal, we have to also call bullshit when we see it. (See Populism, Land reform, George Henry Evans, US History 1850’s. It didn’t work then either. The rich controlled too much.)

      Once we get the 411, we have to expose it, which means working by the heat of the steam rolling off our Ramen in our $2000/month crap flat to write stories about the bad guys. Then we have to pay for client lunches in the city to see if they’ll publish it, scrounge cab and metro fare to solicit the publishing houses, and pay entrance fees to gala openings where the rich are because we have to cover for the society rags to buy groceries. Everyone has to whore themselves out in one way or another.

      Everyone has to compromise their beliefs when they are forced into it. It doesn’t make them the problem. We need to understand just what each other is up against before anyone of us can formulate the ‘winning plan’ for a whole group. No individual can decide what’s right for an entire group because group dynamics are unstable, fluid, and unpredictable at best.

      5. “This of course means I am often judging other’s [sic] habits as well.” – Perhaps this is the source of your anger, not the Broadside blog-post.

      • Corrections:
        *AIG et. all makes made—–> et al. makes bad
        * one, town grocery—–> one town grocery
        *gigantic energy corporation —–>corporations
        *demand as consumer —–>consumers *sorry for long sentence here-brains don’t breathe*
        *fix there cars—–> their cars
        *was not enough—–>is not
        *farmer’s market.the—–> .The
        *buy are shipped—–>is shipped
        *Los Angeles who pays—–>that pays
        * have to cover for—–>cover them for
        *rags to buy groceries—–>buy our

        Lesson:
        Do not type tired

        Transferrance of responsibility:
        Dear WordPress, An edit button, would it kill ya?

      • I love a well thought out rebuttal. Thank you, and yes, I’ve run that exact gamut in my mind.

      • Here is the source of my Frustration: I read the Broadside to get a fuller picture, to “mentor myself” using the thoughts and ideas of a woman who has walked before me. I could read the Huffington Post or the Times, but I choose to seek out a common sense female blogger who has different ideas and a solid perception of the world.

        But yesterday’s post made me wonder if she isn’t completely disconnected from what. In my neck of the woods, is the average lifestyle. Not the poverty stricken lifestyle. Many, many people don’t have healthcare. I thought that Obama established that when he enacted the new healthcare measures. I don’t, by the way, agree with his methods. I think these costs are one reason I was laid off. Toting half the healthcare costs for my family would have been the equivalent of giving me a 12 thousand dollar raise.

        I’m sad for the people struggling, but I think her examples are quite out of touch with what mostly people in their twenties, for example, are going through.

        I just read this

        http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/18/nyregion/18insure.html?_r=1&

        And my mind was blown. My circle of friends have been doing these things for almost 20 years. We just never talked about it.

      • First, thanks for coming here and sharing your thoughts.

        I’m really glad you’re here because the whole point of Broadside is to promote conversation — across gender, race, borders, work and — yes — income levels. For what it’s worth (maybe nothing), my husband and I are considered wild-eyed bohemians because we drive a 13 yr old dinged up car (we own one, not multiple late-model BMWs, Mercedes or Mini Coopers, the cars in our area) and I work at home writing (making about 1/4 of what a fresh grad corporate attorney brings in). Our region is stupidly rich (why we live in an apartment, not a shoebox house with $12,000 a year in taxes on it.)

        My point is this: we all live in micro-economies. My town’s median income is now about $80,000….it was $40,000 when I moved here in 1989, so it has gotten, clearly, much more upscale as the Brooklyn yuppies have moved north.

        I have NO illusions that life is not the utter shits financially for millions of Americans, of all ages — and not just those in their 20s! The great American myth is that everyone else is somehow doing better than you because….? Yes, our income is higher than some others (while a laughable joke to our much, much wealthier neighbors): we are in our mid 50s and my husband (thank God) is in a union and has been able to keep his job. But I am earning 2/3 of what I easily cleared in the year 2000…so something isn’t working, but it sure as hell is not me!

        Health insurance pricing — I agree! — is insane. It is priced very differently in different states, so comparing its costs is difficult. I was single from 1994 to 2001, when my now-husband moved in with me, (therefore my expenses dropped.) But I was buying my own market-rate health insurance from 1994 to about 2002 at $500 a month. I have never lived here without health insurance: my mother has survived five different kinds of cancer so there have been times in my life all I paid for was food/housing/car/health insurance. That $6,000 a year was a huge huge burden on someone self-employed but there was no way in hell I was going to let myself get medically bankrupted or die of an undiagnosed or untreated disease. Was I lucky to afford $6K a year? We could argue all day long about that, but I made damn sure to earn it and to not spend it on anything less urgently necessary to my survival — no cellphone or cable, to name only two “necessities” for many people.

        I’ve also needed four orthopedic surgeries since 2000. I will do whatever I humanly can to make sure I always have health insurance. This is NOT a judgment of anyone. This is NOT a defense of the insane ripoff of what it costs. This is my decision and I have sacrificed to do it.

        It is basic economics — you earn enough to afford health insurance or you do not. Or you earn enough, on paper, but you are drowning in debt from student loans or your mortgage payments ballooned or you’ve got a ton of kids to clothe and feed…I am in NO WAY defending the disgusting greed of the companies that “offer” us health insurance. From birth to age 30, I lived in Canada where you do not pay for health care; it is paid for through higher taxes that everyone pays. You can go to a doctor or have major surgery or, as my mother did in 2009, stay three months in the hospital with multiple surgeries — and see not ONE bill after that.

        I also — thank God — have a Canadian passport and, if I retire there, will have access to free health care once more.

        Americans have chosen this insane, costly, dysfunctional system…by continuing to vote for people who keep choosing a for-profit healthcare model that screws millions of Americans every single day. Talk to your political representative(s). Do some internet research (easily done) and see which special interest groups donated the most to him/her and his/her party. Then wonder why your vote doesn’t count.

      • But they are her examples, from her life, from her perspective, from the end of her nose. Her blog post isn’t trying to be the everyman blog, so why get upset about her not addressing your neck of the woods? How could she> And do those specifics matter as much as the bigger point that we’re all in a tight spot?

        I like her blog, and your blog, and this crazy dude’s blog about peanut butter, none of which even come close to the world I live in.

        But your people parts do, and that’s the positive side-effect of blogs. We get to see each into others’ heads, which are all wired the same regardless of class, occupation, region, or interest.

        Your eyes show me a life entirely outside of my mainstream, but your heart shows me that you feel my pain. You and I are average humans. Same struggles, different bank accounts. Fight is fight.

        Maybe that’s what we can take away from each others’ posts;
        our experience may differ, but our humanity does not.

      • Well said!

        I like the notion/fact that we can all learn from one another, but not necessarily in ways we expect or might even prefer.

        One of the most pressing issues I see right now is the growing inability/unwillingness to listen to people who are very different from us (in many ways) — looks, income, education, SE status, religion, whatever. But we all want, as you say, the same basics: love, kindness, respect, work, friends and health.

        I live surrounded by a sort of wealth, in my county and NYC area, that would make your head spin like a top. It’s crazy. But it is also where this country is heading — and it is a useful reminder for me as a journalist that the very poor and the very wealthy live in this country.

        They sure as hell are not talking to one another.

        There is also some shocking poverty….go to the top end of Park Avenue in NYC and the world shifts radically from wealth to poverty in about 3 city blocks.

      • Agreed. I wasn’t angry with Broadside. I’m angry that there is are whole populations out there with no voice, or a very cloudy voice. Some people don’t get “normal” medical care. We are outside the mainstream talks. Well, okay, everyone talks about it, but not really what it actually looks like. My children have had state medical care which has yanked us around for years. Total nightmares which you are probably paying for because I can’t. Waste and torture and guilt at the hand of the people who are supposedly trying to help.
        Then there are the ex-cult members. Other weirdos. No job histories, totally vacant from the mainstream for decades at a time. how do they get jobs? why do we keep having to lie about what happened just so we can break into the real world? And then the cult members themselves. Real weirdos, but people who can’t even relate to the whole paying for insurance thing because their kids don’t have birth certificates. As far as America is concerned they do not exist.

        I’m not angry so much as frustrated about how little the average person thinks beyond their present situation. Forgive me if I sound harsh. I don’t mean to. I feel the need to educate people about problems much more complicated than money for health insurance.

        My anger stems from an attempt to “be normal” only to realize how non-mainstream my life has been. I’m really not angry all the time. I promise.

      • Broadside is Caitlin Kelly….there is a real person here! :-)

        It sounds like you have a lot of issues to resolve. The average person has very little idea how others live, and often little curiosity as well.

      • Caitlin, I wasn’t sure how you wanted to be referred to. I love your name by the way.

      • Thanks!

        I am getting such a kick out of this 3-way chat…how cool.

      • I feel bad for coming off angry. I really have a beautiful life. Really.

      • Anger is a highly under-rated quality — esp. in women. I’m fine with it here, as long as it’s not personally directed.

      • Yeah, sorry, I didn’t mean angry. You said frustrated, I meant that.

        Now me, well now, all this sh*t makes ME downright angry ;)

      • I feel passionate about our messed up health care system and I try to encourage people to read books out there that have excellent ideas on how to make it better and outline the problems. One such book is “The Healing of America”. It sounds like it is about holistic health but it is not. It’s a comparison of the five different systems from five wealthy democracies (US, Canada, England, France, Japan and Germany). Other countries are more fair, broad based and accessible. France, for example, pays ONE HALF of what we yet gives double the care. Japan is similar. I am pro business most of the time but with medicine, due to varying factors, medicine has NOT provided affordable healthcare for all. It’s very complex and for us to solve it we need to educate ourselves. The author strives to be unbiased in his reporting.

      • I’m very familiar with this issue, but did not know this book.

        Thanks for the recommendation — now a must-read!

      • I feel deeply for those who cannot afford insurance. It is so messed up but I am with you Beautiful. I’ve lived simply and frugally most of my life and even with insurance I rarely go to the doctor. I go only when I absolutely have to (I am 46 years old by the way). I don’t even feel they help me that much when I do go…they totally ignore holistic ways of healing which I prefer and have ignored the good work I’ve done on my own. And yes, I do A LOT to try to ensure I don’t go to the doctor at all. When possible (which is almost all the time) I try alternative forms on my own seeking out this treatment on my own. I also eat a whole foods plant based diet and do yoga (both Kundalini and yoga which have been so helpful with low thyroid). I do this to feel good but also to avoid all the extra bills, and hassle, I get from going to the doctor. This lifestyle has served me very well on many levels but it also saves me medical issues. Even with insurance there are misc. charges, I have no idea what they mean or what they are for. I’d rather not even walk thru those doors if I don’t have to, to avoid the added stress of the crazy billing.
        Having said all this I don’t think anyone should feel fear in going to the doctor like I, or millions feel. That is not right at all.
        There are so many issues with this medical system I just can’t stand…how they totally ignore non invasive, inexpensive, effective ways to heal yourself. I feel for the woman in the article but diverticulitis and diabetes can be controlled and even healed naturally. These are common issues with our modern lifestyles and diet. The info is out there we just have to partake of it. The powers that be don’t want us to because then we wouldn’t hand over our lifesavings to them to “heal” us (and it’s not even healing, it’s simply management of disease, not very good at all). Of course, our government, actually subsidizes processed/crappy food instead of the whole, REAL food that would keep us healthy.
        I could go on and on but I will stop there.

      • The way Americans (for many, many reasons) approach health care is often somewhat industrial — our bodies are treated (by work, certainly) as machines to keep running, fast, smoothly and without interruption. We are not machines! So we eat crap and don’t exercise or sit still in silence or (if possible) take time off to rest….then we rush to a doctor or hospital to “fix” us with medication and surgery.

        I agree with you that much of what we do is self-inflicted, and we do not take much greater responsibility for our health. Many would prefer to ignore it or out-source it.

        Other nations and cultures do see this differently. For example, in Canada, I had ready access to birth control and abortion and information — there is no religious right there, as there is here, tainting political thought and policy-making. That is only one example.

      • Just to clarify…I am not saying we should not pay for those who are not taking care of their bodies. In other countries with a national system everyone gets taken care of whether careful or not (but they do get the ire of those who are more responsible). I am just saying give everyone the option to go another route. Put the info out there (doctors will not). Educate people on our bodies and how to take care of them. And especially, stop governmental subsidies for *rappy food and instead, support farmers who farm responsibly (taking care of the soil) and creating REAL food. I’d also say stop allowing junk food for food stamp recipients, as well. How much disease and added costs to the taxpayer is this costing? Of course there are so many special interests on the federal level it’s very hard for them to make common sense decisions. But we could start.

        My young darling doctor told me my thyroid was low and suggested putting me on thyroid meds. I didn’t want to do that so I got to work. I started taking thyroid supporting herbs on my own and started doing Kundalini yoga that is very supportive of the glands.

        I went back and she was astonished that it went away without meds. She was like “how could this be”? I gently told her what I did and she replied “that is not possible it doesn’t change like that”. Not true! Everything living can change and heal! And I did it. She wasn’t interested in the results and just moved on. My regimen was much better than taking a pill everyday and benefitted me in other ways (other glands normalized at the same time). One big reason medicine is so messed up!

  7. This post just brought back flashbacks of my life in the States…and the lives of so many of my friends back home. Every job I held in the US, I always felt dispensable. I always had a looming feeling of “I could lose my job at any time”. Whether my fear outweighed the reality is difficult to say, but it’s definitely an employers’ market right now. Employers are getting high quality employees for a fraction of the cost. A friend of mine at Harvard Law School worked for free his first summer (something unheard of in previous years). One of my other friends in CA who’s smart, driven and graduated with her teaching credentials 5+ years ago has yet to find a job for which her credentials are required (settling instead for waitressing jobs or working at a preschool).

    While New Zealand certainly has a high cost of living (and, as a lawyer at a top law firm, I am certainly not making “BigLaw” money), the effects of the global financial crisis are not felt nearly as badly here (Kiwis think they’re being hit hard but they’re not). The wealth also seems to be more evenly distributed here. Minimum wage is $13.75/hr. Plus, I know I have job security, and my income is steadily increasing (my raise this year was 11.5%). One of my other friends who is one of the most brilliant, hard-working people I know (with two advanced degrees from an Ivy League school – a J.D. and an LL.M.) received a raise this year that was so small that, after accounting for a tax increase, she will actually be bringing home less money than she did last year.

    Something’s gotta change.

    Great post!

  8. There used to be a day when inflation and the economy where the big news stories of the day and people generally discussed topics like this. We need to get back to making these issues important again and really pay attention to the socio-ecomonic issues that are plaguing this country and almost all who live in it.

    • I think many don’t talk about it because a) they don’t understand the concepts because they didn’t get it in school and b) they don’t realize how it will impact them personally.

      It’s like the debt spirally out of control. For most people they don’t care, it’s not on the radar because it doesn’t change their lives now. But in time it will, in a big way, if only we were so wise to realize this.

      • I learned a lot — at 30! — when I finally took a macro-economics class. Made me a Marxist overnight. In all seriousness, it radically changed how I thought of myself and of work.

      • Very true Yoga, We teach kids social studies which is more centered around the history of social changes in America without real focus on modern issues and it isn’t until we hit college that math courses focusing in accounting and finance are available and then, only those students whose careers require them to know such things will actually take those courses. It is also true that many Americans run on the I have money in my pocket so life is good principle, and don’t worry about the future.

      • Which is nuts!

        I’m writing a NYT story about how to afford long term care. It’s one scary issue!

  9. So true! I think we have hit “recession fatigue” — people are sick to death of debbie downer reporting (even when it is more important than ever) and never ever seeing serious political action or corporate hiring. The wealthy are doing great, the poor are screwed and the rest of us can go to hell. But the rich are so insanely rich that we — the not insanely rich — are like some weird annoying abstraction, mosquitoes in the tent. It’s their tent.

    • Broadside, I love what you said….”Mosquitos in their tent….” That’s exactly how I feel. And just to clarify, I take full responsibility for my part in my current situation, it’s just that even when I worked, I was falling behind, because it takes money to work. Plus, I was away from my children all of the time. I don’t like to write negative posts either, but I think the discussion has to happen or we can’t even begin to make a fix. I’m job hunting and brainstorming possibly starting a small business so I can keep costs down working from home and still see my children. Meanwhile they tell me their teachers smoke pot, so I have to figure out a way to deal with the education issue as well. Good thing I like a challenge.

      • The fact it costs money to work (doncha love it?) is yet another issue. My worldview (for better or worse) comes from having lived in Canada, England and France where there are things like safe, clean, heavily govt.-subsidized daycare which frees women (and men) to work, if that’s what they want and need to do. So they can get ahead financially.

        Americans hate “socialism.” They hate communal decision making or subsuming their individual needs to (OMG!) a collective good, a better sitch for ALL of us.

        It’s rarely dull. :-)

    • Hi. I just have to interject here. I am not part of the “rich” although I do have stocks. I have “low” income (according to my accountant) but I also have assets. Yes it is true that those who have stocks have done better lately. But that is not the riches fault! You know why stocks have gone up? Because they are saving money on all their labor because of the recession! The cause is our policies that are not creating a vibrant and diverse economy to help pick everyone up. Even though I have benefitted I would much rather have a strong, diverse, economy that offers opportunity to all. This is the result of the policies of our administration who, even though wants to help the middle class and poor, has in effect made things worse for them.

      • One of the issues in “protecting shareholder value” is that we all just fall for it. Uh huh, OK whatever Wall Street wants…

        Corporate profits are at an all-time high and hiring stagnant. It does not work for anyone but those already in the system and benefiting from it. I wish I saw a solution but I don’t.

    • I don’t think I’d call it recession fatigue. I think they’re suffering from; “I don’t understand what your saying!” syndrome. They don’t understand the cause and effect. Think of it like, your walking down the road on your way to do something very very important to you and someone comes running towards you flailing their arms and shouting in language that you cannot understand, you see the concern in their eyes, they motion for you to follow them in a direction leading you away from your very important thing, but you cannot understand what it is they’re trying to tell you. So you hesitate one part of you thinking what is problem? Is this person in trouble? Is he/she trying to warn me of some danger ahead? Is there someone they need me to help them with? You have no answers so you stall there confused not knowing what to do. You’d help if you could but because you don’t the essence of the problem you stall because you don’t know if you can help or if there truly is anything you can do. For all you know the guy could be a lunatic or just blowing things out of proportion and any effort you make might be wasted and you have important things of your own to do.

      These days most folks just don’t know the full implication of what happening to them by the decisions made by people they don’t know, on matters they don’t completely understand there by which they don’t know what to do and except say to themselves: “Well, lets see what happens…” which of course by then is too late.

      • I agree. The degree to which we are economically and politically powerless — even IF we have some idea what’s happening — is scary as hell. Like….you save a TON of your income (if you can), “playing by the rules” (hahahahahahaha) and the value of your hard-earned investments is utterly trashed by billionaires on Wall Street creating toxic “investments” no one, including they, even understood.

  10. A belated comment on BL’s powerful blog post — and thanks for the link.

    I can’t possibly say it better than MI/Leah (dammit, girl! :-)) but the basic economics of having six children make your life, BL, exponentially more difficult and challenging in every possible way than mine. I have no kids. I have no one but (thank God) a healthy, employed husband who needs my time, energy, attention and income.

    The other issues are complex and the MI lays out the arguments beautifully.

    We also do not all behave using a firm and fixed set of behaviors. In the years 2007 and 2008 — in 2008 24,000 journalists lost their jobs and relatively few have gotten another one in the same industry — I made barely in the entire year what I’ve been able to pull together in four months of this year. I’m hustling harder than ever, very deliberately. But there are more people actually ready and willing to buy my work which just was not the case then. The economy is stronger for some people in some sectors with some skills.

    But make no mistake, I’ve spent plenty of time wearing other people’s used clothes and shoes when I could not afford to buy anything new of decent quality. Try to bear in mind that most people are not eager to shout “I’m broke! I’m struggling! I’m screwed!” on permanent, linked-to social media. Even when it’s absolutely accurate, for months or years. It’s not, in my field in my nabe, a great career move — no matter how true.

    It is also too simple and too easy to argue “just bank elsewhere” when your choice is Huge Ripoff Multinational Bank or some little local thing you’ve never heard of (remember the savings and loan debacle?) Or to say “then don’t buy stuff that makes other people rich.”

    Time/money. That’s the decision we all make every single day. The more time you have, the more you can bake and cook and sew and garden (if you have space for all those things, which I don’t, in an apartment) and do the artisanal farmer thing…or say, fuck it, I need to make $$$$ (because the mortgage company and car insurance and the people who make bras won’t work in barter or accept some pickles or a few chickens instead of cash.)

    The great shell game of the American economy is that it insures we waste all our time and energy parsing (and attacking) one another’s choices (your choice to have six costly children, mine to have none)…instead of realizing how utterly screwed we ALL are by living in a plutocracy.

    Having the Rockefeller buzz my balcony every goddamned day is a very, very useful reminder of that.

    • Shanks for the compliment buddy.

      “The great shell game of the American economy is that it insures we waste all our time and energy parsing (and attacking) one another’s choices (your choice to have six costly children, mine to have none)…instead of realizing how utterly screwed we ALL are by living in a plutocracy.”

      Nice. Very, very well said. And it brings us full circle from BL’s post about blaming the rich.

      Sure as sh*t I’m gonna blame rich people who keep this system so bass-ackwards. It’s complete insanity, but the poor are the most solid form of revenue for governments and businesses (well, in America, same thing really), so they will spend the money to keep people poor.

      I’ve never known anything but poverty and debt, for to survive poor, you must accumulate debt. It’s not a lifestyle-choice problem, it’s how the system works. For lenders to make money on loans they need the interest. If everyone got loans and paid them off, banks wouldn’t have $700 billion to lose.

      Same with the US economy, you want it to operate at a deficit. If people have to keep making monthly payments, the interest can be used to make more money in investments, more loans, etc. They NEED us to stay poor, to stay in debt, to keep making monthly interest payments.

      Poor folks are the best commodity:

      1. We consistently pay on our debts more than any other economic group. We have a payback mentality that exceeds all others. True story.

      2. We do not have tax laws to shelter our income from taxation. We can’t squirrel away stocks, dividends, or capital gains; we can’t leverage companies, or donate to charity to lower our gross; we have never been to Switzerland. I netted an annual salary of 6 grand, I had no loopholes. (Still paid 25% taxes though.)

      Now, I’m no math major, but I can tell it don’t add up when the lowest income earners carry the burden of the country. Well it actually does add up because that’s how the system is rigged, but morally it’s shite.

      Long gone are the days of “disposable income.” The disposable part is that we’re throwing our money away on debt rather than using it for what we need. But debt drives our financial sector because debt makes money. Small businesses and homeowners can’t get loans because banks are buying and investing in debt. Students are paying astronomical tuition costs and loan interest because their debt is a racket split between the public and private sector. (Remember that brass ring I told you about?)

      Working-America’s income doesn’t buy anything, it just cycles back into conglomerate business and government, who then pocket it, or dole it out to more rich folks who use the subsidies for their expenses, so they can squirrel their profits away to the Caymans. Oh, and bombs. Our shitty paychecks buy a loooot of bombs.

      I don’t know anything other than poor, but I have been close to some very rich folks in my lifetime. They were very good, very honest, and very generous people, but to keep their wealth in the American financial system, exploitation was a must. The laws are actually like that because out countries “pioneering capitalists” hired Congress to write them that way. Look it up.

      How did they know how do to that you asked? They could afford to go to school and read the history of the world. Nothin’ but a handbook for screwing people, and way better than a bible for controlling a crowd.

      Now, health insurance? What’s health insurance? Oh yeah, money paid to middle men to dictate how well you can be. F*ck health insurance. My cousin died at 29 of cancer 4 years ago; felt sick, went to the doc the next day, found she had 3 days to live. She made it 2. She had employer-supplemented, basic insurance. They didn’t pay squat and still send her bills.

      Livin’ poor? Hell, the best thing I CAN hope for is a terrible disease to kill me haha

      • And what can I add?

      • Hi. I am very sorry for your struggles. I am not the same political persuasion as you but you must know I wish that everyone be paid fairly and justly and that there wasn’t such a difference between the high earners and low. I have people in my life I care about who are struggling like you and it breaks my heart.

        However I am wondering about what you said. When I have read over and over that half of the taxpayers pay no federal taxes and I know no state taxes are 25% where do you get that number? In CA for example, you would pay zero and you’d have to make much more to pay anything. In CA, with the second highest state taxes it’s comes up to 13% not even close to 25%.

        As for the poor being the biggest revenue source, I’d have to politely disagree with that. I get that the money earned from loans benefits certain sectors but many, many people, have loans with interest and that includes the wealthy and middle class. Yes, I agree that cc interest is probably paid by lower income folks, that is true.

        I think the biggest revenue source for government is the middle class, those they can tax freely. Not enough rich to tax enough but a larger number of middle class to nickel and dime to death.

        Again, I sympathize with your plight and I wish some things were like there in the 50s. In the 50s everyone who had a job was paid enough to live pretty good. I want work to be truly rewarded as it should be. I want everyone who works to make enough to live, not just survive.

      • thanks, what’s my political persuasion?

        regarding your question, the reason you can’t do the math is because what you’ve read is a bunch of shit. it’s spun to sound bad, so the populace will continue to support a system of disparity without even realizing it.

        every paycheck from the time i started at 16 has been < 25% from gross to net. doesn't take more than a casio handheld to get that number. simple math. and it didn't matter what my annual salary was. come tax time, i'd lose another 25% and get the bits left over as my refund. again, the power of the dollar calculator.

        now the reason we disagree on the poor being the biggest revenue is because you still buy the myth that there's a middle class. the middle class is just poor folks with different zip codes and bigger debt, my friend. if we all accept that we have a 98%, and a 2%, and the 2% holds half the money, where's this middle of which people speak? now that takes some interesting math to get that.

        and if you think the 50's was our economic ideal, then your history books are lying to you too. the 50's were good for the same white folks that have it good now. but the rest of america still had to deal with the same disparity.

        i might come off as rude here, you'll get used to it i promise (i'm really a good person underneath haha), but i'm not going to argue with misinformation, and waste your time. i'd ask that you more research and be wary of the "numbers." you'll find, when you really start digging into the real world of poverty that the numbers they feed you don't add up.

        I will concede that information changes constantly, so what i say right now can change in a news cycle, or congressional turnover. and i'm not being facetious or snarky to condescend to you and your respectful inquiries (thank you for that), but i know you are under some incorrect assumptions about me and the nitty gritty details of my world. not your fault, no one told you your 'teachers' were lying.

        i wish you the best. i think your kind of heart and thinking is what will fix the gaps. we need more like you up in congress to fix the broken parts.

  11. I am doing OK (with definite ups and downs) but in my work I know contractors (those in the building industry) who have been decimated. It breaks me heart. One in particular, GREAT guy, who has years of experience and know how to do so many wonderful things, practical yet can create amazing beauty…his landscaping biz fell down during the recession. It breaks my heart when someone like him, hard worker, someone with true “grit”, produced jobs, creator gets no help to get back on his feet yet some people in our society, government employees for one (I am in CA where they reign supreme over the rest of us), really suffer nothing (as long as they are not laid off). I try to support them as much as I can by giving work when I can (he can do almost everything) but it’s just heartbreaking. And I don’t read/see/hear any appreciation for these guys, the ones who take risks, know how to form businesses, do the hard stuff of dealing with clients and employees a like. I read about support for other groups but not these guys. It makes me mad. It’s like they are just seen as people to tax more.

    • So true! I have a friend who is a contractor, in business for decades, and he had to lay off several of his workers.

      I find it ironic/infuriating that this country is all about “liberty and freedom” but those who take business risks have nothing to fall back on even if — as you point out — they are job creators as well.

    • Well for millions there IS tons of welfare but these guys won’t be invited to partake. Because they are male, middle aged, no children in tow my guess. And they had decent businesses in the past so they ask “you did it before you can do it again”. I feel in my state they don’t care at all, they just see businesses as something to tax. No respect or appreciation for the hard work, risk, “grit” these individuals must have to make it work. It’s depressing and terribly wrong, IMO.

      • It is something that I can never resolve here — the endless insistence on “personal responsibility” — and no government help or backup for the millions of us who do exactly that.

  12. I missed the “party.” It’s crazy. Life is hard, and it has been for a long time, but I see it getting tighter and harder. So much so, I’m seriously considering giving up and moving to a rural area for a cheaper COL. I don’t have enough $ to be social, or enjoy the niceties NY has to offer. It just doesn’t feel like there’s any relief in sight.

    • The problem for me is the professional isolation and cultural boredom of rural life. There might be some place (?) that is neither provincial nor dotted with fast food joints and strip malls and still affordable and charming….? But it is likely very far from where we now live.

      I agree with you, but the thought of starting over again anywhere is just wearying to me. While the costs here are crippling.

      • It is exhausting to think about, and I’ve been wrestling with these questions. LOL, it was today’s post for me before I started catching up on your blogs :D

        I’m not sure I’m opposed to provincial. At this point, I live a fairly quiet and isolated life (yes, in the middle of Manhattan) You do a lot more face to face interacting with others, both professionally and socially, than I do.

        All I know is something’s got to give.

      • I know it’s feeling oppressive…I am spending a lot of my energy trying to find new/alternative sources of income beyond writing. I love writing but it’s a fool’s errand these days financially.

        I am a very gregarious person. My one attempt at rural life made me desperately unhappy so I am not very eager to try again.

      • All I know is I believe we need to open ourselves to new opportunities, whether it’s career choices or where/how we live. The status quo isn’t working, for too many of us.

      • It’s tricky deciding what’s going to give, though! I am starting to feel more disconnected from NYC than before. I enjoy it but am tired of much of its riches (culture, shopping, entertainment) being beyond my reach financially — and/or being too tired to really explore and enjoy.

      • Disconnected is the word. I can’t partake of any of the things that make NYC what it is, so I wonder what the point is.

      • Bizarre, no? And frustrating. Escalade City.

      • A very different New York than 30, or even 15 years ago.

  13. [...] I thought I would feel better after my rant about fear and changes in my last post.  Wrong!  I posted, and then checked out this week’s posts from blogging friends, and ended up in an interesting conversation with Caitlin Kelly from Broadside Blog, prompted by this post. [...]

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