Wednesday, October 19, 2011

My Own Circumstance

I decided to get that MA in art history and spent two years saving the money to do it, putting together over $10,000 and paying off all my debts except the car, when I was fired during a company bankruptcy related round of mass firings in 2006.  I went to work quickly with another company making $11,000 less per year and started using my education fund to pay my rent and utilities.  (I went from 42k to 31k and in CT neither of those figures makes an adult fully financially independent.)  Then I got sick and, thanks to a very bad health plan, paid out over $1,000 of my own money just for diagnostics.  

Then I added another $2,000 to that in preparation for school, including a laptop, books, and airfare to London where I earned that degree in one year.  I sold my my car prior to starting school because I could not afford to make payments on it while attending school full time without a job.  I started my degree in September 2007 as the run on UK banks unfolded and the housing crisis became apparent in the states.  I graduated in October 2008 (at age 38) as the financial crisis went full tilt and came home to zero opportunities, even in my old career, which I was willing to re-enter under the circumstances, even if my degree was earned in order to leave that old career.

Now I am  41 and still working the same part time job for the same ten dollars an hour that I got in 2008.  I live in my mother's very small house, sleeping in a 7x5 bedroom.  I recently found out that I am technically defined as homeless but am not counted as such because I am sheltered.  Anyone in this circumstance is said to be the "invisible homeless."  My student loan was just shy of $45,000 when I graduated and, because I haven't been able to afford payments for two and a half years, it is now due at over $58,000.  I cannot qualify for deferments under my loan agreement because some weeks I work over 30 hours and the federal government considers 30 hours full time -- deferments are available to those working part time.  Like most student loan holders, I do not qualify for any kind of debt forgiveness and I know there is nothing available thanks to Rep. Murphy's office researching the case for me.  

As this country has never really addressed ageism in a culturally meaningful way, we middle agers are likely to have the hardest time getting rehired and back to full wages, meaning our futures are more greatly compromised than those 20somethings the news takes great pity on.  Most of us do not have significant savings (I have $5,000 left over from my last loan disbursement that I use periodically to buy groceries for the household or cover an unexpected bill) or investments or any substantial finances to fall back on.  

I am delaying a needed cervical biopsy because I cannot afford to have it done and have not yet heard from the hospital charity if they will cover the expense.  This is almost funny against Jennifer Granholm's recent interviews in which she has cited socialized medicine as one reason US companies take their businesses to other countries.  

Perhaps none of this would be so hard if I had a spouse to share expenses but I am single and child free so I do not qualify for public assistance or even a mention in political rhetoric about the difficulties of the economy.  

So what about me?  What about all those people like me who just wanted to make the second half of our lives better than the first?

Sunday, October 16, 2011


I attended the October 15 occupation of Times Square in New York City.  It was a pretty intense scene -- real demands being made, despite what the "real" news media report.
There is much negative criticism and even dismissal of the movement for its pluralist workings and broad range of complaints.  Both these points are things I had been wondering about for some time and having been part of the protest, I now see them as essential to the movement.

The nation has been abused by a bad economic structure for the last fifteen or more years; evidenced by near stagnation of wage growth against the cost of living, rapid bank growth and mergers, loss of health coverage under increased premiums -- all things you knew as they happened.  Then there was deregulation and the spread of the derivatives market, mortgage bundling and selling of risk, predatory lending practices, and so on -- things that came to light only later...

The point is there are multiple causes for the current economic crisis in America which, in turn, affects different people in different ways.  While we may be the same in that we have to struggle with less money, how it plays out in one person's life varies (some people can't keep their houses and rent small apartments, some have mounting debt to not finding good paying work, some people are newly homeless, and so forth).

There are some common themes, though.  The popular media would like you to think it's all as simple and vague as hating the banks but it's not.  What the participants in the Occupy movement hate is the unfair banking practices the big banks engage in, and the way the US government rewarded said banks for bankrupting private individuals but did nothing to help the persons whose livelihoods were destroyed.  That's the anger.

Within that there are real problems, all of which need solutions.  There is a student debt crisis in America, with default on the increase at a rapid pace.  There is a health care crisis in America which maddeningly defends its free market system, allowing only some persons access to care and denying coverage to people at whim.  There is a housing crisis whereby home owners are under water or losing their homes.  There is a jobs crisis -- few are being created and reported unemployment remains at nine per cent.

Given this there can be no single demand to come from the Occupy movement.  It took many mistakes and many bad social mechanisms to make this mess, it can't be hard to understand it would result in many different crises across a population of 300million people.  All of these problems are part of the larger issue at hand -- that there has been allowed a culture to exist that favors profit over the well being of private citizens. Don't think so?  Review the anti-union movement sponsored by various state governments and private companies over the summer, look at the average minimum wage by state, look at the jobs numbers reported for the last quarter, look at teacher lay-offs, look at the increased out-sourcing of jobs over the last two decades.  (I could hand you these stats but if you really want to know maybe you should do some work to find out.  That is a point made in this movement, that you should be informed and involved.)

The Occupy movement may well remain a broad set of complaints under one banner.  If you want to boil it down to one coherent idea, consider this:  That all people should have the right to go to work for full, life sustaining wages which enable them to provide for themselves, pay their bills, and save for the future.  Access to good jobs should be equal and fair wages guaranteed.  The government is in place to protect the people whether from foreign invaders or domestic employers and institutions.  If this really happened there would be no crisis bringing people to the streets.