Once Upon a Fat Girl

Friday, January 26, 2007

An Embarassment of Riches

I spent a lot of time and energy today trying to figure out a way to move my family to Ely, into a house with enough land for a little farm, in the next eight or nine months. During that time we'll be able to pay off all of our debt and save about $10,000.

And then I turned on my television tonight and caught a 20/20 about kids living in Camden, New Jersey. Did anyone else see this show. Camden is the poorest city in America (average annual income of $18,000) and the most dangerous. It looks like a war zone. Fucking heartbreaking.

How is it possible that in this country there are kindergarteners that people eat three meals a day? Or that there are children living without heat. People who have to choose between shoes or food for their babies. Homeless five-year-olds or middle school kids who are so poor they don't even know what to wish for.

I had a fairly privileged childhood--I grew up in a nice house in Southern California where I went to good schools and had more than enough of everything. We moved to Las Vegas when I was 15 and for a while things were still pretty good.

Then my dad went to jail. My teenage years were spent trying to figure out a way to graduate from high school while working full-time to supplement my step-mother's appallingly low teacher's salary and taking care of six brothers and a sister while the same step-mother was drinking her troubles away.

I got pregnant when I was twenty, again when I was twenty-two, and two years after that my husband left. I spent the next five years as a single mom.

Now I'm married to a man who works and works and works...then works some more...so that the end of this summer I can have a farm in Ely.

So I've been on both ends. So poor that I was opening cans of corn to feed my baby brothers because that's all we had in the house. And so rich that watching a show about poor kids makes me feel a little queasy.

I've been thinking a lot about the class structure in this country. And how much easier it is to pretend it doesn't exist. How much simpler it is to say "those parents need to get a job." Anyone can succeed in America, right?

Capitalism breeds contempt for the poor, I think. Our president proposed a plan during his State of the Union address to give a tax break to those who buy their own health insurance, and never mentions the millions and millions of Americans--people he is charged with leading and protecting--who will not be helped (and likely will be hurt) by his plan. They are too poor for his tax break to matter. He wages war without raising taxes, insuring a huge burden for the next generation. Probably the one after that, too. A fraction of the cost of his war could give health insurance and food to every American. He wants billions to rehabilitate Afghanistan when there are places like Camden right here?

My family makes about 150% of the national median family income. We don't come close to being able to afford the median house (not just for our town, but for the nation.) The national median house costs about $225,000--our income qualifies us for about $180,000 using the three-times-annual-income rule of thumb.

And yet on the news everyday I hear some idiot or the other saying that the market has stabilized, prices will start to go up again now. Like that's a good thing? It's a good thing for prices to go up when the average American family can't afford to own a decent home? When so many of those who do own homes have loans that are so screwy they aren't likely to hold on when they reset this year.

Even if you work hard, go to college, get a decent job--owning an average American home is out of the picture unless you make two or three times the median family income.

Don't get me started about the Senate tossing out the minimum wage hike because tax breaks weren't included. Or the chick on MSNBC who said families earning more than $80,000 are the middle class.

WTF. Seriously. Just WTF is going on? There is a huge disconnect in our country, and it scares me to see how little the people in charge care.

You know what? I'm pissed off. And I'm sad. And I'm scared for us.


Blogger kathrynoh said...

It definitely is screwy. While Australia isn't as bad as the US, our govt seems intent in making it that way - things like free health care are being eroded and university education, which used to be free, is become more and more expensive. At the moment, they are trying to take away any kind of union rights.

The working poor are being a larger group the world over and are in many ways the worst off. If you are unemployed (here at least) you get all kinds of benefits but if you work, you might not get much more income at the end of the day but have all the extra expenses.

Sorry for the rant :) but it's something I feel so strongly about. In rich countries, we should look after everyone, not just ourselves.

1:35 AM  

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