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Posts Tagged ‘Mitt Romney’

Hating the poor will not make you rich

In behavior, culture, life, Money, news, parenting, politics, religion, urban life, US on November 9, 2012 at 2:20 pm
Stained glass at St John the Baptist's Anglica...

Stained glass at St John the Baptist’s Anglican Church http://www.stjohnsashfield.org.au, Ashfield, New South Wales. Illustrates Jesus’ description of himself “I am the Good Shepherd” (from the Gospel of John, chapter 10, verse 11). This version of the image shows the detail of his face. The memorial window is also captioned: “To the Glory of God and in Loving Memory of William Wright. Died 6th November, 1932. Aged 70 Yrs.” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There are several strains in the American worldview I find, even after 24 years living here, confusing and wearying.

There is the persistent narrative that government is bad, that self-reliance is good and that no one who needs government help — other than victims of natural disasters — really deserves it. If they were just smarter/harder-working/thriftier/better educated, they’d be fine.

The self-righteousness is pervasive and ugly.

I get it. My first book, which looked at guns in American women’s lives, included interviews with many women who own guns, some of which they use for hunting, for sport and for self-protection. In speaking with 104 men, women and teens of every income level from 29 states, I came away with a much clearer understanding why 45 percent (then “only” 30 percent) of American homes contain a firearm.

This is a nation predicated on the belief that everyone is responsible for themselves.

This is, (and this is the confusing bit), also one of the most overtly religious nations on earth — the percentage of those “churched” is much higher than England or my native Canada. This is a nation where some people proudly, loudly and routinely boast that they are God-fearing Christians, while sneering at the poor and weak, something Christ would have difficulty with.

Here’s an interesting link discussing seven current trends in American church-going.

I’ve seen extreme wealth and extreme poverty here.

Yet, in today’s deeply divided nation, as Romney and his supporters lick their wounds and Obama and his staff prepare for his second term, the rich rarely — if ever — encounter the poor. They remain some weird, distant abstraction, nothing they or their children will ever encounter or experience.

Until its fury erupts within their circle, like the New York City nanny who recently slit the throats of two of the three children she was caring for, commuting from her difficult life in the Bronx. She was, she told police, tired of being told what to do and wanted to earn more money.

The middle class, however you define it, is terrified of falling into poverty. It’s so much easier to hate the poor and struggling than face the reality you are them or soon to be.

The middle class has been told, from birth, that if you just work really hard and go to college and get a degree, and then get another, and maybe another, you too can become wealthy. For some, yes. For many others, who can’t even find any job right now, that ever-receding horizon is starting to look unattainable.

So much easier to look down in terror and disdain than cease gazing up at the private-jet set with awe and envy.

I recently watched a new documentary, “Set For Life” that’s making the rounds of film festivals in the U.S., about workers over the age of 50 out of work, and the struggles they face in this recession. It is sobering, and depressing, made by a recent Columbia University grad named Susan Sipprelle.

I have mixed feelings about this intractable divide, one that is only growing.

I was a Big Sister in the late 90s for 18 months, mentoring a 13-year-old girl living a 10-minute drive east of me in my suburban New York county. I had never, in the U.S., confronted poverty firsthand or known someone personally in its grip.

My time with C was instructive, and ultimately left me less reflexively liberal. I liked her, and admired her grit and humor. She was fun and a loving, affectionate girl. But her family’s behaviors, attitudes and expectations — even with four tax-payer supported workers helping them — horrified me and I struggled to make sense of them. Her mother had simply disappeared for five years, and showed up a week after C and I were matched. I’d feed C fresh vegetables at my apartment, or take her to the library, while her mother — a decade younger than I — watched TV in the basement night and day.

I tried, writing a five-page single-space letter pleading her case, to get C a scholarship to a local private school, where if she boarded, would have offered her a respite from the shouting, filth, junk food and three-generation welfare dependency of her family.

She never showed up for her tryout day at school. I never heard from her, her family or Big Sisters again. I still wonder how she is doing.

In my retail job, I served some of the nation’s wealthiest men and women, in their triple-ply cashmere and five-carat diamond rings. The one word they never hear, the one that makes them recoil in shock and disbelief? “No.” It took me a while to realize that money buys you a lot of agreement: your nanny/au pair/personal trainer/driver/SAT tutor/assistant(s)/maids/staff/employees are unlikely to ever argue with you or deny you your every whim.

Their world is a shiny, pretty, insular one, where material success safely brands you as a winner, a member of the tribe.

They often spoke to us low-wage, part-time, no-benefit hourly workers slowly in words of one syllable. They leaned over the counter as we entered their addresses, certain we couldn’t possibly know how to spell. One man (not in our store) threw a quarter behind him as he left, sneering: “Go to college!”

Everyone in our staff of 15 had. Two were military veterans.

Several different Americas went into the voting booth this week, their mutual incomprehension unmitigated by billions of dollars spent on attack ads, “informed” by Fox News or NPR, but rarely both.

The side that lost is apoplectic, crying foul, red-faced with rage. Romney cut off his workers’ credit cards immediately.

Obama, speaking to his campaign workers, wept openly with pride and gratitude.

Obama wins again — plutocrats and misogynists sulk

In behavior, life, news, politics, US on November 8, 2012 at 1:58 pm
English: U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clint...

English: U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and First Lady Michelle Obama stand with Honoree Sonia Pierre of the Dominican Republic at the 2010 International Women of Courage Awards at the U.S. Department of State, Washington, D.C. March 10, 2010. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s so annoying when $300 million just won’t buy you the President you want.

From The New York Times:

At the private air terminal at Logan Airport in Boston early Wednesday, men in unwrinkled suits sank into plush leather chairs as they waited to board Gulfstream jets, trading consolations over Mitt Romney’s loss the day before.

“All I can say is the American people have spoken,” said Kenneth Langone, the founder of Home Depot and one of Mr. Romney’s top fund-raisers, briskly plucking off his hat and settling into a couch.

The biggest single donor in political history, the casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson, mingled with other Romney backers at a postelection breakfast, fresh off a large gamble gone bad. Of the eight candidates he supported with tens of millions of dollars in contributions to “super PACs,” none were victorious on Tuesday.

Not to mention all those nasty wimmin.

From Gawker, quoting from The Christian Men’s Defense Network, whose words I have put in boldface:

[O]n radio ads, on TV, and on the web, the Democrats tried to make this election about a single issue: The right to slut.

Or more precisely, the right to slut without the responsibility of consequences. The famous “gender gap” isn’t really a gap based on gender. The right overwhelmingly wins older and married women. The “gender gap” should more accurately be called the slut vote.

“Instead, we are looking at four more years of skyrocketing debt, stifling regulation, and the only First Lady who could possibly be bitchy enough to make Hillary Clinton look feminine.”

There is a small, nondescript building – indistinguishable in appearance from its neighbors – somewhere in the outskirts of Washington, D.C. Within that building there is a room. Within that room there is a trapdoor leading to a smaller room, and in that subsequent room, resting in cold storage, there are no fewer than 17 First Ladies bitchy enough to make Hillary Clinton look feminine. Every one of them is a monstrous lesbian. One of them has silver eyes. Silver eyes! When she wakes, the world will burn.

“Women make up about 54% of the electorate. It is very hard to win without winning that segment, or at least losing it only narrowly while winning men big.”

A popular misconception. Women make up only about .0001% of the electorate. Did you know there are only 17 women in America? Through a complicated system of levers, pulleys, and elaborate hats, they are able to appear far greater in number.

It’s hard to describe the feeling of relief that millions of us felt when Obama won re-election. Yes, the economy still stinks and millions are still struggling hard to find a job or keep one or keep their homes. He has a lot of very hard work to do to pull the poor and middle class up the ladder, and I’m not sure what he can do. Every time a political candidate promises to create millions of jobs, I think — really? How? The government is already broke and corporations are sitting on record profits and refusing to hire.

The people who voted for Obama are young, female — and poor; 63 percent of those with incomes below $30,000 chose Obama.

No one who is struggling can see themself in Mitt Romney or his wife. Obama grew up never knowing his father and was a community organizer, dedicating himself early to helping others. Not, as Romney did at Bain Capital, helping others get richer.

The Republicans may now realize that playing with the word “rape” as two defeated candidates did, is political suicide. One suggested there is such a notion as “legitimate rape” and another felt that any resulting pregnancy was God’s will and must be carried to term.

Women vote. Women sneered at and dismissed and treated as political footballs notice.

The most powerful moment of election night, for me, were two brief glimpses of Romney’s supporters — white men in khakis — and Obama’s, a crowd of men and women of all colors and ages and sexual preferences. This is America today.

Also from Gawker:

Increasingly, the message in America is clear: If your organization or project is a myopic den of white homogeneity, or if your strategy for success includes trying to gin up fear around people who are different, you are destined for irrelevance, and nobody will care how rich you are, or who your daddy is, or at what ivy-draped liberal arts school you cut your perfect teeth. Those who haven’t learned that lesson are mocked, shunned, or, worse, totally ignored. Either way, they don’t win elections.

If you’d like to follow the Republican example and turn your nose up at diversity and bridge-building between races, genders, and creeds, more power to you. It is, as the call of children and patriots alike says, a free country. But don’t be surprised when you end up like Romney in his final moment last night: red-eyed, tired, dizzy, and congratulating the black guy who just beat him at his own game.

The $10.32 loaf of bread

In behavior, business, children, culture, domestic life, family, life, Money, parenting, politics, US on October 22, 2012 at 1:49 pm
2001-2006 Mini CooperS photographed in USA. Ca...

2001-2006 Mini CooperS photographed in USA. Category:BMW Mini R53 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

That’s the price of a loaf of Eli’s Bakery walnut and raisin bread in my town.

I don’t live in some remote Arctic village where everything must be flown in, inflating prices to a crazy degree, but a suburban town 25 miles north of New York City.

$10.32.

For bread.

I asked the men who own and run the store, one they spent $600,000 to expand and renovate recently — who can afford this bread? How many are they selling each week? (Five.) Sometimes they get an order for ten at once. $100, for bread.

Then I went out for lunch with my softball team, a co-ed group I’ve known for a decade. One of them says his teen-aged son refuses to drive one of the family’s two cars, a Toyota Corolla, because it’s “a cleaning lady’s car.”

Excuse me while I shriek: What the fuck?

My town, and county — reflecting the income divide that is deepening and widening in this country at warp speed – are becoming a place I no longer recognize.

The cars in our town’s parking lots now are shiny new Mini Coopers, Range Rovers, Audis and BMWs, not the dusty econoboxes I used to see. There are three art galleries selling garish, huge paintings of dubious beauty.

The median income in my town, in 1989, was $40,000, then $60,000. It’s now, I believe, about $80,000. That sounds like a fortune depending where you live.

But it doesn’t buy you much around here.

And the sort of hyper-competitive materialism my friend despairs of in his own son is normal amongst his status-obsessed peers, in a town far wealthier than ours.

Over lunch  — wondering, as we all are, who will become the new President in two weeks and what our world will look like if uber-rich Romney wins — we had a long and impassioned discussion of the rich and the poor and the disappearing, desperate, job-seeking middle class.

Why do so many rich Americans not give a shit about those lower down the socioeconomic ladder?

“They’re losers!” said one, a retired iron-worker. He doesn’t think that, but many rich people now do — if they live in a big house and drive a shiny new Beemer and their wife wears designer clothes and their privately schooled kids are headed as legacies for an Ivy school and grad school, why, they deserve it!

And anyone who’s failed to scale the greasy pole of material success at their speed and height does not. Poor people are shiftless, lazy, poorly educated, unwilling to work hard. So goes the mythology.

It must be all their fault.

The two largest sources of new jobs in the American economy are part-time, pay minimum wage and offer no benefits. Slinging burgers at McDonald’s or folding T-shirts at the Gap will not, contrary to any Republican fantasy, help propel the hardest worker on earth into the middle class. These are working class jobs.

I know. I worked retail for 27 months, then wrote my book “Malled.” I saw firsthand the disdain the wealthy have for those who serve them.

Romney’s contemptuous remark — that 47 percent of Americans, those paying no federal income tax, are leaching off the rest of them, the productive ones — revealed a raw, vicious and useful truth. Many of this economy’s winners, gloating on third base, are convinced they hit a triple.

The rest of us can go to hell.

Here’s a recent New York Times piece about minority kids who get into top prep schools but can’t relate in any way to the privilege therein:

WHEN Ayinde Alleyne arrived at the Trinity School, an elite independent school on the Upper West Side in Manhattan, he was eager to make new friends. A brainy 14-year-old, he was the son of immigrants from Trinidad and Tobago, a teacher and an auto-body repairman, in the South Bronx. He was soon overwhelmed by the privilege he saw. Talk of fancy vacations and weekends in the Hamptons rankled — “I couldn’t handle that at that stage of my life,” said Mr. Alleyne, now a sophomore at the University of Pennsylvania — and he eventually found comfort in the school’s “minority corner,” where other minority students, of lesser means, hung out.

In 2011, when Mr. Alleyne was preparing to graduate, seniors were buzzing about the $1,300-per-student class trip to the Bahamas.

He recalls feeling stunned when some of his classmates, with whom he had spent the last four years at the school, asked him if he planned to go along.

“How do I get you to understand that going to the Bahamas is unimaginable for my family?” he said in a recent interview. “My family has never taken a vacation.”

It was a moment of disconnection, a common theme in conversations with minority students who have attended the city’s top-drawer private schools.

There was once a very clear understanding of noblesse oblige — that the privileged owe a responsibility to help those less well-off. No longer.

Increasingly, Americans have a servant class and a class that ignores them, until it needs their kids cared for or their doddering mother attended or their cars washed or their groceries delivered. They live in different neighborhoods, attend different schools, shop in different stores. They do not attend the same churches or share a bus, train or subway car. Rich kids think being “poor” means driving a car costing less than $75,000.

I watch it in dismay and wonder where, truly, the United States is headed as a nation, a polity, an identity in which to take pride. Social mobility is now at its lowest in decades.

From Foreign Policy Journal:

During the second half of the 20th century, the United States was an opportunity society. The ladders of upward mobility were plentiful, and the middle class expanded. Incomes rose, and ordinary people were able to achieve old-age security.

In the 21st century, the opportunity society has disappeared. Middle class jobs are scarce. Indeed, jobs of any kind are scarce.

Are you seeing this growing divide in your own schools, neighborhood, life or work?

How — if at all — is it affecting you and your kids?

“Rape, incest or the life of the mother”

In behavior, children, domestic life, life, parenting, politics, religion, women on October 13, 2012 at 12:51 pm
Mitt Romney

Mitt Romney (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Anyone who watched the debate this week between Vice President Joe Biden and Congressman Paul Ryan heard this phrase repeatedly from Ryan. If Mitt Romney wins, the only way an American woman will be able to get a legal, safe abortion in this country is for those three reasons — she is pregnant through rape, incest or her life would be threatened if she carried to term.

Here’s Adam Gopnik in The New Yorker on Ryan’s comments in the debate:

Ryan then went on to say something oddly disarming in its inherent lack of self-awareness. He talked about how, looking at a first sonogram of his daughter, he was thrilled by the beating heart in the tiny “bean” on the image, so much that he and his wife still call that child “Bean.” …Ryan’s moral intuition that something was indeed wonderful here was undercut, tellingly, by a failure to recognize accurately what that wonderful thing was, even as he named it: a bean is exactly what the photograph shows—a seed, a potential, a thing that might yet grow into something greater, just as a seed has the potential to become a tree. A bean is not a baby.

The fundamental condition of life is that it develops, making it tricky sometimes to say when it’s fully grown and when it isn’t, but always easy to say that there is a difference and that that difference is, well, human life itself. It is this double knowledge that impacts any grownup thinking about abortion: that it isn’t life that’s sacred—the world is full of life, much of which Paul Ryan wants to cut down and exploit and eat done medium rare. It is conscious, thinking life that counts, and where and exactly how it begins (and ends) is so complex a judgment that wise men and women, including some on the Supreme Court, have decided that it is best left, at least at its moments of maximum ambiguity, to the individual conscience (and the individual conscience’s doctor).

I am solidly and unmovedly pro-choice.

I think the right to a safe, legal abortion is a fundamental right for women who — as we do — want to control when, how or if we become someone’s parent. We might get pregnant, unplanned, at 13 or 18 or 28 or 37 or 42. An unplanned, unwanted pregnancy is one of the most fundamentally life-altering events in any woman’s life.

The right to abortion is the most important way for us to preserve the most essential autonomy we have over our own bodies.

“The life of the mother” ignores a basic fact women know intimately  — it is the sudden death of our dreams, hopes, plans and ambitions that, for many of us, determines the difference between “life” and death.

A woman with no:

– money

– reliable income

– clean, safe home

– partner, whether male or female, married or unmarried

– family to help her with baby-sitting or childcare

– education or access to education

– safe, loving marriage

is not a woman who wants to, or should — weak, scared, broke — become someone’s mother.  Women’s role on this earth is not simply to create children, no matter their emotional or intellectual strength.

Women become pregnant through laziness, ignorance, ambivalence — and a lost, broken or unused condom. Women get pregnant if they screw up their birth control or never knew exactly how to use it properly in the first place. Women get pregnant when they least expect it. (My husband was born to a woman who was 49.) Women get pregnant by men who, they soon realize, or already know, are absolutely unfit and unready, emotionally, financially, professionally, to become someone’s father and assume those lifelong responsibilities. Women get pregnant by men they are married to who are, they discover, having an affair. Women get pregnant by men who turn out to be scary shits, even abusive.

And single mothers are those most likely to fall into poverty.

No woman wants that for her future, or a child she might be forced to bear.

I do not think choosing abortion is a decision to be taken lightly, without a clear understanding that you are making the choice to end a life. It is no substitute for intelligent, thoughtful, responsible, consistent use of effective birth control. If you’re too scared to ask your partner to use a condom or find and use an effective form of birth control, your decision to abort is, in my mind, a sad, painful consequence of your own unresolved ability to handle your own sexuality.

Pregnancy is no joke.

From the non-profit Guttmacher Institute’s most recent report:

• Of the approximately 750,000 teen pregnancies that occur each year,[3] 82% are unintended[5]. Fifty-nine percent end in birth and more than one-quarter end in abortion.[3]

• The 2008 teenage abortion rate was 17.8 abortions per 1,000 women. This figure was 59% lower than its peak in 1988, but 1% higher than the 2005 rate.[3]

• Compared with their Canadian, English, French and Swedish peers, U.S. teens have a similar level of sexual activity, but they are more likely to have shorter and less consistent sexual relationships, and are less likely to use contraceptives, especially the pill or dual methods.[7]

• The United States continues to have one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in the developed world (68 per 1,000 women aged 15–19 in 2008)—more than twice that of Canada (27.9 per 1,000) or Sweden (31.4 per 1,000).[8]

From the American on-line magazine Salon:

There is hope for America yet: A new survey finds that most adults in this country believe that teens should be taught about both abstinence and birth control. What’s more, seven in 10 adults agree that federal funds should go toward teen pregnancy prevention programs that have been “proven to change behavior related to teen pregnancy” (i.e., actually work). And three-quarters of teens and adults think that antiabortion policymakers “should be strong supporters of birth control.” Sanity prevails!

Now here’s the bad news: Most teens “say they have all the information they need to avoid an unplanned pregnancy,” according to the report by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, and yet “many admit they know ‘little or nothing’” about contraception. Forty-seven percent feel clueless about condoms, and a whopping 72 percent admit ignorance about birth control pills. Worse still, 42 percent of teens believe contraception doesn’t matter all that much, that you just get pregnant “when it is your time,” says the survey.

I do not want men in positions of power telling women when they may become a mother.

Here’s a new memoir by Merle Hoffman, an American woman considered one of the nation’s leaders in the pro-choice movement.

What do you think?

If I could vote in the Presidential election…

In behavior, immigration, life, politics, US on September 7, 2012 at 11:57 pm
Barack Obama

Barack Obama (Photo credit: jamesomalley)

It would not be for Mitt Romney.

If this means a stampede to the exits from some of you, sorry.

But that’s how I feel.

I have a “green card”, (pink actually), that allows me to work and live in the U.S. But, for a variety of reasons, I do not have citizenship. I can easily get it, and retain my Canadian cititzenship as well. I just have not made that choice.

So I can’t vote for anyone.

I watched President Obama’s speech, and those of his VP Joe Biden and former President Bill Clinton — who I’ve seen a few feet away in a local restaurant, as we live about a 15 minute drive south of his home.

I came to the U.S. to live in 1989, writing on the consular application “better job opportunities” as my reason. It’s one of the reasons I’ve stayed.

That, and two American husbands (not simultaneously.)

It’s been a really rough four years and I’m terrified that Obama is not going to be re-elected. Not because I think he’s done such a great job, hamstrung by partisan politics.

But the notion of Mitt Romney, and his dressage-horse-owning wife, his $250 million fortune, his absolute disregard for the middle class (and below) — and his Mom jeans — in the White House is making me look at my Canadian passport with longing.

Would I leave if he won? It’s not that simple.

But I would want to.

I’m a self-employed, middle-aged feminist. Republicans care not a whit for anyone in those three categories.

Every week another insane-o Republican politician, usually male, tosses some red meat into the cage by offering up yet another way to control our reproductive rights. As many of us have noted, Republicans loathe government intervention into any aspect of their lives — but they love telling American women what to do with our bodies. It’s my uterus, boys. Back off!

A third of American workers now look like me: self-employed, permalance, temp or contract. That means the only way to get health insurance is to marry someone who has it or buy it, at whatever price is on offer, on the open market. For anyone living in New York, you’re looking at $600-1,200 a month, easy. You can go bankrupt paying for health insurance or you can go bankrupt with enormous medicals bills. Now that’s my kind of economic freedom.

I’m also weary of the fantasy that the wealthy are “job creators.” They’re not. Right now, American corporations are earning record profits, (often having pounded their desperate, un-unionized workers into lower wages and worse working conditions), and are stuffing their pockets with that dough. They are not hiring or giving raises, promotions or bonuses.

The latest job numbers are terrible — only 96,000 new jobs were added here in August.

And the two largest areas of job growth?

Foodservice and retail, the subject of my memoir of working 27 months as a sales associate.

Dead-end jobs for lousy pay.

From The New York Times, August 30, 2012:

The occupations with the fastest growth were retail sales (at a median wage of $10.97 an hour) and food preparation workers ($9.04 an hour). Each category has grown by more than 300,000 workers since June 2009.

Some of these new, lower-paying jobs are being taken by people just entering the labor force, like recent high school and college graduates. Many, though, are being filled by older workers who lost more lucrative jobs in the recession and were forced to take something to scrape by.

“I think I’ve been very resilient and resistant and optimistic, up until very recently,” said Ellen Pinney, 56, who was dismissed from a $75,000-a-year job in which she managed procurement and supply for an electronics company in March 2008.

Since then, she has cobbled together a series of temporary jobs in retail and home health care and worked as a part-time receptionist for a beauty salon. She is now working as an unpaid intern for a construction company, putting together bids and business plans for green energy projects, and has moved in with her 86-year-old father in Forked River, N.J.

“I really can’t bear it anymore,” she said.

Either can I.

Americans’ slavish devotion to the “free market” is killing the hopes and lives of millions. People who can’t find a job and can’t afford to go back to school to re-train (again) because — funny thing — they’re already in debt from the crappy mortgage they bought or they ran through savings in the years it took to find their last job or because getting the next costly credential is no guarantee that anyone is going to hire you.

For those of you who live outside the U.S., the defining mythology here is that of the boot-strapper, that each of us is fully able, from birth onward, to create and define and shape our lives.

Regardless of race, education, family background.

I’ve spent a lot of time, as a reporter, talking to people whose lives make this a lie:

– A woman who shot her husband dead because the police were unable or unwilling to stop him stalking her.

– The 19-year-old raped in the dark, dirty hallway of the public housing where she lived.

– The family who showed me a quilt with the images of their mother and father, both killed violently, woven into it.

– The contractor who had to fire half his staff because he could not afford to keep them.

– The businessman paying $1,000+ every month to buy health insurance for his family.

– The student terrified to be job-less because she’s carrying $30,000+ of student loan debt.

The U.S. is a great place to live if you’re smart, strong, well-educated, healthy, socially connected. Don’t get sick. Don’t need help. Don’t have dependent family members who can’t earn their own way.

If someone tries to crawl into your lifeboat — say the Republicans — beat the oars on their frozen hands and tell them to save themselves. No one ever needs help. It’s their own fault!

If you’re unlucky enough to be ill, old, physically weak, in debt, financially illiterate…you’re Republican carrion.

If the Republicans win the White House, I fear, deeply and genuinely fear, for the well-being of all but the winners at the craps table of laissez-faire free-market capitalism.

How are you feeling about this election?

Do you plan to vote?

Want to flee poverty? Don’t be American

In behavior, business, culture, life, Money, politics, urban life, US, work on July 24, 2012 at 1:56 am
Gini_Coefficient_World_Human_Development_Repor...

Gini_Coefficient_World_Human_Development_Report_2007-2008 (Photo credit: jiruan)

Depressing, lucid and infuriating, this recent piece in Bloomberg Businessweek lays out a stark analysis of American income inequality, now at its worst level in decades:

A recent finding nicknamed the Great Gatsby Curve may be the most controversial of all. With it, University of Ottawa economist Miles Corak makes the strongest case yet that inequality and mobility are intertwined—the more unequal a society is, the greater the likelihood that children will remain in the same economic standing as their parents. His research comes as the country—and the presidential candidates—debate inequality and what, if anything, government should do to slow or reverse its trajectory. According to the Pew Charitable Trusts’ Economic Mobility Project, Americans believe more ardently than their global counterparts that “people are rewarded for intelligence and skill.” And yet, according to Corak, it’s as simple as this: “More inequality means less opportunity.”

The reporter only had to travel an hour out of New York City, where the magazine is published, to find extraordinary wealth — Greewnwich, Darien, New Canaan, Connecticut, home to billionaires — right next to grinding poverty, in towns like Bridgeport.

If the region were a country, it’d be the world’s 12th-most unequal, ranking just below Guatemala. Economists measure income disparity using the Gini coefficient: A measure of 0 means all money is evenly distributed; 1 means one person has it all. The U.S. had a Gini of .467 in 2010, up 2 percent since 2000, census data show. (With the exception of Chile and Mexico, it has the highest level of disparity of the 34 countries that belong to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.) The Bridgeport region’s Gini grew 17 percent during this time, to .537, making this 625-square-mile swath home to the biggest income divide of any metropolitan area in the U.S.

I live a 20-minute drive from these towns, so I see these disparities in my own life.

They are increasingly common here, and increasingly intractable.

– If you can prepare sufficiently to get into college, can you handle the work and graduate?

-- Can you even afford college? How?

– Can you get a job that pays your bills and your student loans?

– Can you save any money?

– Can you afford to acquire, if necessary, even further educational credentials?

– Do you have the requisite social skill and emotional intelligence to take advantage  of — and create for yourself — every possible connection and opportunity?

The leap from poverty to even relative affluence seems unimaginably large now for too many.

My husband grew up in a moderate-income family, his father a Baptist minister of a very small congregation in a small city. Thanks to his father’s service, Jose was able to attend college on full scholarship and graduate debt-free.

Armed with talent and drive, my husband won a secure job at The New York Times in his mid-20s. Today, I wonder how many could replicate that leap.

I came to the U.S. from Canada in June 1989, seeking better work opportunities. I had several clear advantages: no children; serious savings; a demanding liberal arts education and college degree, no debt; fluent English; competence in two other foreign languages.

Plus, perhaps most crucially, confidence in my abilities and the (ugh) willingness to cold-call more than 150 strangers to land my first New York City job.

Today, full-time freelance, earning about that same staff salary 24 years ago, I probably look like a downwardly-mobile failure, which is pretty ironic, given my initial ambitions for immigrating. But I still have short and long-term savings, thanks to a combination of extreme frugality, a lucky lawsuit settlement and a husband with a decent, union-protected income.

A low-wage job, part-time with no health insurance, is no way out out of poverty. In the United States, in 2012, the word “job” is now about as meaningless as the word ‘blue” to describe the sky. 

Millions of working-class and middle-class Americans are being totally knee-capped by crappy wages, part-time work, no union protection, (7 percent unioized in the private sector, 12 percent in the public), chronic unemployment or underemployment — and no one who really gives a damn whether things get better for them.

Yesterday, The New York Times ran a story about how many older Americans are now losing their homes, even those who lived frugally. The cost of living here is crazily rising while many home values have plummeted:

Once viewed as the most fiscally stable age group, older people are flailing…while people under 50 are the group most likely to face foreclosure, the risk of “serious delinquency” on mortgages has grown fastest for people over 50…

Among people over 75, the foreclosure rate grew more than eightfold from 2007 to 2011, to 3 percent of that group of homeowners…

Older Americans are losing their homes because of pension cuts, rising medical costs, shrinking stock portfolios and falling property values, according to Debra Whitman, AARP’s executive vice president for policy. They are also not saving enough money.

Half of households whose head is between 65 and 74 have no money in retirement accounts, according to the Federal Reserve.

I’ve put that last sentence in boldface because it is so deeply shocking and depressing. Fifty percent of Americans facing the traditional age for retirement have no money at all beyond their Social Security benefits?

So, even if you flee poverty in your teens or early adulthood, you’ve got a 50 percent chance of hitting the skids in your golden years?

Nice.

Do you fear falling (further) into poverty?

Any thoughts on how to fix this mess?

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