Falling from Grace

The American Middle Class Feels the Pinch. And Why?

Beryl Gorbman

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.

No more steak

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.

Please share your thoughts on these issues in the Comments section below.

About BG

Beryl Gorbman is a writer and private investigator who divides her time between Seattle WA and Merida Yucatan Mexico. She has published two works of fiction, 2012: Deadly Awakening, and Madrugada. They are both available on Amazon and other outlets. Also at Amate Books, and Casa Catherwood in Merida. You can read about them in various articles on this site.
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10 Responses to Falling from Grace

  1. Thanks, I read the very well written article. Almost all is true except for that it is not just G. B’s and the republican’s fault
    Please read below for my incompletely/ scattered thoughts:

    It’s all the do nothing, big spending of Congress over the years, both Republicans and Democrats are to blame for the mess, the lack of the SEC governance (a secret unregulated society), crooked politicians, the lobbying bull shit, unions, Fanny -Freddie Mac, and pressuring the banks to process bad loans, GREED in general of business people. It’s a F’d up mess! Companies moving overseas. Bill Clinton was one of them who pushed for NAFTA, ie., it didn’t start with him, though, a Democrat. Letting companies go overseas. We don’t have much of a manufacturing industry here. Humana, for example. I have had to make calls in the past few weeks, PISSES ME OFF, because I have spoken to India and Jamica. Each time I have spoken to them (ATT too), I say I don’t want to talk to you, I want to speak to someone State side. Once I get on the phone, I ask the state side person if the conversation is being recorded= yes, so I always say: “ATT, Humana, I don’t like you sending jobs overseas. Americans need jobs. This makes me angry. I need a job!” Another thing, I don’t want a politician to be in office for 45 years, I want term limits. They get in there for too long, become rich or richer, get too comfortable, don’t really look out for Joe Blow Citizen, some leave Congress and go to work for lobbyists. BULL! (There are the few exceptions regarding the politicans not being corrupt, etc.)
    (Democrats and Republicans ok’d the entry into Iraq= a fiasco. Now and why the hell are we in Lybia? ) I don’t want to hear it was to release the people from tyranny, bull again. That was the part of the story for Iraq.
    We go into Lybia, and not Syria, Yemen, Iran (killing off their people) Yemen, where there is going to emerge an Al Queda state! (I’m just saying) More bull! What hypocricy!

    I don’t believe in siding with Egypt, the world wide Muslim Brotherhood(dangerous organization), and throwing Israel under the bus. When Israel goes, so does America. But this is our government, both Republicans and Democrats!

    I don’t trust any of them! I am thoroughly disgusted! They are not looking out for America!

    _________

  2. John says:

    One group says the government (i.e., the people) must help the poor and disenfranchised who are stuck in a downward spiral. The other group says to give tax breaks to the wealthy and to the corporations who will take that money and provide jobs for those people, and to let the churches and neighbors take care of those who fall through the cracks. The first group has been willing to compromise. The second group is certain they are right and refuses to give an inch. Who will win this political and idealogical standoff? We all know who loses.

  3. lynne says:

    I truly believe that the majority of politicians actually think if you cut everything off including basic services, birth control, food stamps, welfare, low income housing, rehab, food banks, SSI and the like that those in need of those servcies will just help themselves. You know like they do in India where there are no slums, no poverty…just let them live buy a dirty river and one day they’ll just figure it out and do better. Why can’t we be more like Sweden? I’d be happy to pay much higher taxes so that my fellow citizens and neighbors were better educated. I’d be happier if we were actually a peaceful nation instead of a country that is addicted to war.

    • BG says:

      Either that – they think people will figure it out for themselves – or they just flat-out don’t give a shit. I too, would pay a lot more taxes to make things better. I only would hope that congress would spend my money on human services rather than war.

  4. Estela says:

    It`s time for the “Buffett rule” to be adopted…those exceeding $1MM a year should pay income taxes proportionately and not at a considerably lower tax rate than middle class wage and salary earners.

  5. lynette says:

    I think what we are seeing happening in the US is the result of a long process that began in the late ’70s, early ’80s. Somehow, regular working people became convinced that unions harmed them. Average wage slaves Joe and Josephine came to believe that their interests were aligned with those of the ultra rich, that somehow, if those already-doing-quite-well people did even better, everyone would benefit. They were helped along in that view by the pink-cheeked actor, Ronald Reagan, and his faux tough guy stance (America loves a tough guy, no matter how phony).

    The wholesale brainwashing of the American people began just prior to WWI when most were opposed to our getting involved in that horror. Some well placed propaganda fixed that, and it worked so well, it’s been in use ever since. But I think we’ve really seen the effects of the ongoing, subtle ~ and sometimes not so subtle ~ thought control of the American public in the timeframe noted above.

    Remember the frenzy post-9/11? Those of us who opposed attacking Iraq were unpatriotic, even treasonous. It was wholesale madness, and hundreds of thousands, possibly a million or more, died as a result of the lies of a small group of people. Why aren’t we out screaming in the streets, demanding punishment for those who set us on this destructive path? I wish I knew.

    As now: People decry big government, but it’s actually smaller than usual. People scream about high taxes, but they’re pretty much at an all time low. Regulation is bandied about as job killing, but it was deregulation that opened the flood gate, sending American jobs overseas, and allowing a bunch of conscienceless Wall Street thugs to crash the economy. We’re told business can’t hire because their taxes are too high and they are “uncertain,” but the truth is they aren’t going to hire until there’s some demand for their products. Black is white and up is down and hot is cold in this brave new world.

    The tragedy is that people here are so poorly educated about our history that most are making decisions based on the corporate-controlled blather of the gasbags on cable news. And we now have a 24-7 right wing propaganda machine that a goodly number of people consider the most trusted news source.

    All our lives we’ve been taught to fear the communists, and we’ve been controlled by that fear (anything Defense wants, ANYTHING!!! just keep us safe). Now the commies are gone and it’s the Muslims! Yeah, they’re the ones, they hate us because we’re free! And we give up anything for the false sense of safety that a bloated Defense budget and a grotesque Homeland “Security” apparatus appears to provide.

    Sometimes I have the sense that the entire world is laughing at the US. We’re just too self consumed and too ignorant of the world to understand. We buy our own bullshit and try to convince others, but it’s as if the naked emperor stands before the world, bare ass exposed to the crowd shrieking “I am dressed, I AM because I SAY I AM.”

    In the US we’ve become accustomed to thinking of ourselves as the greatest, the best, the world’s shining star. We keep saying it, over and over and over: we’re exceptional, a great democracy, the most powerful, the most glorious country on earth. But the sad truth is we are a Republic in decline, our leaders too corrupted by money and power to even consider the needs of the majority, our citizens so buffaloed by the unending lies we’re told that there’s little resistance to complete destruction.

    Gosh. That’s a little gloomy, yes? I’m in the process of shutting down my little business that’s served me very well for 11 years. We survived 9/11. We survived 2008. But 2011 is really the end. People just don’t have enough money any longer to buy unnecessary pretties. Perhaps that’s the root of some of my gloom, but that doesn’t change the truth of anything I’ve said.

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