The American Middle Class Feels the Pinch. And Why?
It has happened to us so gradually that many of us didn’t notice it until it got really awful. Suddenly, it seemed, we couldn’t go to the movies or buy lattes when we wanted to, or even send nice greeting cards. We certainly couldn’t travel as we liked, and we began to actually pay attention to utility bills. When did the cost of water in Seattle go up 90 percent? When did tickets for speeding at 45 in a 30 mph zone jump to $124? And a parking ticket to $300? And where did our income go? I’m acquainted with single women of a certain age and couples who thought they were retiring in comfort. We are hitting rough walls. Most of us have educations, have worked all our lives, raised families, and paid our dues. Our later years should be gentle, trouble-free, pleasant.
Ella, a high tech recruiter, experienced the dot-com crash in a big way in the early 2000s. Ever resourceful, she resurrected her old technical writing career which bombed a few years later. She became a freelance paralegal, at first popular as a contractor with several law firms, but then the law firms began to close down and – where did everything go? Her condo maintenance fees were suddenly astronomical and she is in a pickle.
Mimi and Helen are both lawyers. Mimi had her own little firm on Queen Anne and Helen worked for one of the big boy-clubs downtown – the kind with valuable art in glass and cocktails at 4 p.m. In 2008, Mimi started losing her small business clients – their own businesses were closing – and she moved from Queen Anne into a home office to handle her few remaining people. Try as she might, she is not getting new business. Helen’s firm, ever genteel, did a quiet layoff in 2009 and she was a victim. Fortunately, she has stashed funds but worries as they dwindle. She is ever so careful and has discontinued her trips to England to tour gardens. Her own garden remains a great pleasure, but only if she can hang onto her house.
How about Russell, a disabled veteran, who retired a few years ago and still carried a $100,000 mortgage on his home? He was sure that his pension, social security and his wife Anna’s little antique shop would fill the gaps. Alas, the gaps became chasms. As reality struck, and it became more difficult to make the mortgage payments, the bank (initials WF) offered the couple a mortgage payment modification, extending the term of the loan and lowering the interest. The bank said they qualified, had them submit a mountain of forms, and then told them that they were accepted to the loan modification program. You don’t need to make mortgage payments until the modification comes through, the bank told them. When the modification program starts, you will be brought current. After five months, the bank informed Russell and Anna that they had NOT been accepted into the program. Furthermore, the bank said that they were now nearly six months behind on mortgage payments, and that they were moving toward foreclosure. They almost lost their house. If it hadn’t been for a HUD program and the help of Solid Ground, a Seattle community agency, that helped them with their back payments, the couple would have been homeless. You gotta watch those banks. Anna suspects they engineered the entire process.
All those short sales, all those reposessed properties out there are there because of the banks. They gave out millions of dollars of unsecured loans in the last decade, and when consumers couldn’t pay them, their houses were reposessed. Yes, the consumers were at fault for borrowing money they couldn’t easily repay, but we are sheep, and we are sheep accustomed to rules set by institutions – so when there aren’t any rules, we go ahead and borrow. Bad consumers, badder banks.
Why do any of us use commercial banks? Better to switch to a credit union. They’re non-profit and they are actually there to help the consumer.
Social Security (a ponzi scheme according to Republican candidate Rick Perry), is shaky. The Republican candidates act as if the government is doing us a favor by affording us Social Security and Medicare, when we have paid into these systems all our working lives. There are no cost of living raises in Social Security and it looks like one way or another, the whole system is eroding. Who are these people who vote for Republicans? Don’t they think they’re going to become 62 and need this help? Don’t they think they are going to get sick and need medical care? What a statistic that is! Old people needing medical care…let’s see… maybe about 100 percent.
Cities, counties, and states are being squeezed. Part of their response is to raise taxes and fees on everything. Car licenses, sales tax, local income tax, parking tickets, etc. And at the same time, their budgets for law enforcement are dwindling, leaving us exposed to crimes and hackers of all kinds. The police simply can’t keep up with the volumes of calls and emergencies in growing cities. And there are the other emergency services – fire departments, medical response teams, hospitals themselves. Personally, it truly burns me when people complain about the slow response of first responders, some of the most courageous people in the USA, and then turn around and vote down tax raises and emergency levies to keep them in existence.
Is there a reason for all this? Could the reason possibly be The Wars? Iraq and Afghanistan, where we send our servicemen in with inferior armor and equipment, so they die like flies or incur life-destroying injuries that make them a burden on the state and their families. No one quite seems to know why we are still fighting. Because we can’t stop? Because we haven’t yet found Bush’s imaginary weapons of mass destruction? Maybe it has something to do with oil and vested interestes. Just maybe American kids are being sacrificed so some corporations can get richer. How much money does anyone need?
Politicians bicker about how federal dollars are spent, some saying The Wars cost more, some saying health and human services cost more. This should not even be a debate. Health and human services are what a governement is SUPPOSED to spend their money on, with programs to assure all Americans a humane environment. These wars, on the other hand, help no one except corporations involved in feeding the pointless effort by manufacturing and maintaining structures, guns, aircraft, etc.
PLEASE read this article from Forbes magazine. The Wars have cost us over a trillion dollars so far, unfortunately concurrent with Republican-driven tax cuts. it’s an excellent article, and I think demonstrates the reason many of us are a lot poorer.
I blame George Bush et al for the reduced circumstances of many people I know. We are not experiencing blissful golden years. We can’t be as generous as we would like, and we can’t always fill our gas tanks all the way up. We have discovered the joys of shopping at Goodwill and Salvation Army. We make pots of soup and freeze most of it. Our retirement incomes are not buying us the world, as we had hoped. Poor us. We have fallen from privilege.
These problems are trivial as compared with suffering from AIDS without good care, or living in a cardboard box, but when they come as a dull surprise, they are hard.
These are true vignettes. The names have been changed.
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