Four Days in America

Monday

I stopped by a coffee shop after work and overheard a woman talking to her friend about a telephone intervention she had with her husband. He lost his job three years ago and since then he has only been able to find part-time work. She lost her job a year later but was lucky enough to find employment within a few months. Thirty hours a week, no health insurance. They lost their house and are moving to an apartment an hour’s commute from where she works.

The woman’s husband was depressed. Worried about him, she left the office to step outside and give him a pep talk. When she returned, her boss reprimanded her for leaving her desk.

Tuesday

A good friend called, she was in tears. Her husband had worked as a machinist at the same manufacturing plant for thirty-two years. He was the union steward and loved his job but the shop closed down two years ago. They moved the manufacturing to Mexico where there are no unions fighting for a living wage.

Two guys he worked with decided to open their own shop and offered my friend’s husband a job. He was only out of work for six weeks, they were relieved. Three months later, the shop closed. The start-up guys couldn’t secure a big enough loan for the equipment they needed. Something to do with the banks. This layoff lasted a few months longer. They didn’t qualify for COBRA because he wasn’t there long enough so they worried their way through several months without health insurance.

Recently, he’s been working an hour’s drive from home, for less pay, one week’s vacation, in a shop with no air conditioning. It was a hot summer in New England this year. He’s 55. But he was glad to have the work and the health insurance. My friend was calling to tell me he was getting laid off, again, in two weeks. Cutbacks due to downsizing was what they told him. He considered himself lucky to have had work this long in a dying industry. Most manufacturing jobs have already gone to Mexico and China and other places. He’s not sure what’s next.

Wednesday

I was meeting my husband at a pizza joint and while waiting for him to arrive, I overheard a woman’s cell phone conversation. She’d worked in home healthcare all her life. She too was in her fifties, a widow who’s husband died young. Struggling to keep her house, she recently had a hard time finding a job and she needed help over the summer. She was embarrassed to admit she had to use food stamps for a short time. She was also embarrassed about borrowing money from her thirty year old son.

Thursday

My husband works with a fifty-five year old man from Guatemala. Each weekday morning he rides his bike into town where he catches a local bus from Lake Worth to Delray Beach. He then walks the two miles from the bus stop to the house where he and my husband are working. The real estate market in Delray Beach is exploding and houses are doubling in value. I recently read 69% of the houses in South Florida are bought with cash.

My husband’s co-worker recently put a small motor on his bike, enabling him to travel at forty miles per hour. He always locks the bike to a bench at the bus stop. Wednesday night when he finished work, he returned to the bus stop to find his bike had been stolen. He was late for work the next day. The walk from his house to the bus stop takes a half hour and he just missed the six a.m. bus. He’d been up since four, but it didn’t deter him, he waited for the next bus. He says he will find out who stole the bike. He still believes in the American Dream. My husband has started picking him up at the Delray bus stop, saving him the two mile walk to the job site.

These are just four stories from four days in my corner of America. As I write this piece, another work week is almost over. Yesterday was Hump Day. Tomorrow is TGIF. This week’s Monday news brought us a shooting at the Washington Navy Yard. Thirteen people dead. The newscasters try for a new angle. They discuss how ironic and surreal it is that this happened in Washington, where the nation cannot even pass a simple bill requiring uniform background checks. I do not see the irony in this situation. These shootings are taking place on such a regular basis that the irony will soon lie in living in a place where a shooting has never taken place.

In the meantime, the Congress is trying to defund Obamacare once again and threatening a government shutdown. A sure sign summer is over and fall is upon us. The stock market had a huge surge on Wednesday, home sales are up six and a half percent but “mysteriously” the middle class feels it can’t get ahead. It’s no mystery to me. Maybe the media should get out from behind their desks and meet the middle class.

The article states median income is $51,017. That’s gross income, not take-home pay. I’ve been fighting a battle with insurance this week. I have COBRA insurance right now, to the tune of $1,300 per month. I just found out car insurance for two vehicles in Florida is $4,054 dollars a year. We’re in a higher bracket because my husband had an accident two years ago. A woman coming out of the bank T-boned his car. She didn’t have insurance. New Hampshire is one of four states that doesn’t require auto insurance. Our insurance covered the damage so our rates went up. Florida does require auto insurance but in the meantime they are undercutting healthcare enrollment because the Affordable Care Act requires everyone get health insurance. I’m confused, are you?

According to my calculations, insurance for cars and health care will cost us $19,654 this year. On a median income of $51,017 that would leave $31,363 for rent, food, gas, phone, utilities, tuition if you have college age kids, day care if your kids are younger, and an occasional cup of coffee and a pizza. But as I said that $51,017 is gross income before the taxes we pay, some of which goes to pay the salaries and healthcare for the members of Congress who are working diligently to defund Obamacare and threaten to shut down the government.

Like Joe Friday, I’m just stating the facts. The things I’ve seen and heard in America. It’s little wonder the middle class feels it can’t get ahead.

***This piece originally appeared in the Huffington Post***

 

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