I’m sitting at home, feeling sorry for myself today. Still, if I was seeing myself as a client today, I’d say that it’s a totally appropriate feeling. That bothers me even more, but not just because I wish it were different for me. As bad as it is for me, it’s horrible for my clients and, I assume, because it’s this bad for me, it must be bad for a lot of folks.
Here’s my reasoning: I’m a straight white male, in his productive years, with two master’s degrees, a professional job — actually three of them — and I’m not really making it financially. And, frankly, I haven’t been for the last 20 years or so. There’s something wrong here. Now, before people go getting bent out of shape, I don’t mean because I’m white, straight, or male I deserve a job, or I deserve to make it any more than anybody else. I don’t. To say otherwise would be a ridiculous way to treat all of my friends who are as talented as I am (whatever amount that is) who aren’t any of those things.
But as a liberal male, I am aware that I’m supposedly in power here in America. I don’t feel poor, but it seems to me if you add up all my debt and all my resources, my net worth financially isn’t much better than it was in high school. Right now, if a woman wants equal pay with me, she’s not asking for enough.
Now, I should be clear here — I’m pretty bad with money. I follow the Bibeau family investment tradition of “Buy High, Sell Low” and I like a lot of junk: comic books, music, movies, books, etc. I like to be entertained. What can I say? I also like a cup of coffee in the morning, Starbucks once in a great while and a doughnut or a bagel in the morning. Having said that, I don’t have any bad habits. I don’t smoke — anything. I don’t have more than an occasional beer or glass of wine. I don’t use cocaine, heroin, or any of those other drugs. I don’t spend my time at the casinos. Translation: I think I’m a pretty normal guy when it comes to money. Not great, but not horrible either. But no matter what, I don’t seem to get ahead — and my family doesn’t either. In fact, we seem to be losing ground it seems to me. Today I’m home with either the flu or Lyme Disease or something else that just sucks the energy out of me. I just looked online and somebody else was writing about their test results and saying they couldn’t afford them because they had to pay out of pocket. My life isn’t that bad — I have health insurance. It just costs about $14,000 per year.
When I was a kid, we were poor, but we had health insurance, we had a place to live, we had food, clothes, a phone and a TV and a car — and it all cost $5200 per year at most. How do I know this? My mother made $100 per week, that’s how. We weren’t on the dole. We didn’t get medicare (at least I don’t think so) and my mother worked one job at a factory. She had a High School diploma and worked harder than many other people did, I suspect, but she worked 40 hours a week and had weekends off.
So, the fact that I spend almost three times what she made just in health insurance says that it’s not just me being bad with money. My parents bought their first house — a fixer-upper to be sure — in Springfield, Mass — for $12,800. At the cost of a reasonable mortgage today, my parents could have paid their entire house off in one year. People now have 30 year mortgages. Again, I don’t think it’s me. Yes, if you’ve read between the lines, it would cost your average me more than $25,000 just to be healthy and have a place to live. If I want to eat, that costs more. I have nothing but a piece of paper I can take to the doctor’s and a roof over my head and it costs someone like me $25,000! I don’t get food, clothing, and shelter. I get shelter and a promise. Last time I looked, though, food and clothing were still necessary, so we buy those.
Closer to the present day, I made $2.35 an hour, I think, at my first job. It might have been $2.65 per hour was minimum wage. Have you been to Dunkin Donuts lately? I would have to work an hour at my old pay to afford the cup of coffee and doughnut that my parents started their day with. At that rate, a coffee in the morning and a beer after work wold cost 2 hours of my day or 25% of my pay! Does this bother anybody else?
I have felt the economy slipping away since about the time I got out of High School. My parents bought a house when I was 14, and sold it for $30,000 or so a year later (That’s not profit, that’s the total price.) Within a year, the house cost $40,000 +. Within 3 years, it was worth $125,ooo or $150,000. That’s a 500% increase in the value of the house we used to own in 5 years! I’m sure no one’s income went up 500% in those five years, so how is that possible? What happened? My dad worked on the house before we sold it, but I don’t know about the next two owners. Is there anything they could have done that made it quadruple in price? Anything? Really?
There was another “boom” in the housing market when my wife and I moved back from California in 1999. Given our “incredible” incomes in California, we could easily afford a house in Rhode Island when we moved back — for about 6 months. During those 6 months we were just getting settled into Rhode Island. By the time we were ready, that ship had sailed. Since we left, I understand that all those houses are worth more on paper than they really are worth, and many people there can’t afford what they’ve got.
I often think of an ice floe that breaks off of the mainland and it’s called “the economy of the past”. I watch it sail it sail into the sunset never to be seen. And I’m aware that my chunk of the economy has long since floated away from the rest of the world. I have a job in America, the wealthiest country on earth. But even with “all” my money, if I get sick (like today) and can’t work for any period of time, it’s over financially. We lose our insurance. Just to buy meds (at retail) for what I already have would cost us more than we can really afford. I have no idea what a doctor’s visit costs these days, but I hear a day in the hospital costs as much as a family vacation for 4 for a week.
Then I go to work and see people who never made whatever ice floe my family made. I see a woman in a shelter who lives on $600 or so per month. She believes that if she only gave up cigarettes, she could afford the first month, last month, and security deposit required for an apartment. And she probably could — in a year. But she lives in a shelter now, so she pays no rent at all. How do other people make it? It takes all I have in my once-per-week visits to convince her that it’s not her fault she can’t afford it. She has a mental illness and she works as much as she can.
I don’t know what the answer is to any of this, but I’m pretty sure it’s not less health insurance for all, less welfare for the poor, the sick, the huddled masses.
Am I whining? Yes, I am. But it feels totally appropriate to do so.