American Dream? What American Dream?

I’m working on a sermon about the working poor and I’m living in America. I don’t mean to sound whiny, as I am not poor, but here’s the bill of goods I was sold as a kid: Work hard, get a new car, marry, have 2.2 children, get a house with a white picket fence, send your kids to college, retire. That was the American dream, and perhaps the proper order for it all.

Politicians still want us to believe in that dream. We still want to believe in that dream. It’s a nice dream, but now it’s more of a fantasy. With math still being math, one would think that the same rules applied as used to. Income = outgo for a stable economy.

Forget minimum wage, that simply doesn’t work at all. Costs for things have just gone up and up until they disappear from sight. For example:

  1. The average new car seems to cost $30,000 and – if you take out a loan, it takes 6 or 7 years to pay it back. I’m not even sure the average car lasts 6 or 7 years. Even at zero percent interest over 72 months, that’s $416.00 every month and it hasn’t left your driveway. Car insurance, fuel costs and such need to be added to that.
  2. The average house costs I don’t even know what anymore and it depends on where you live. I don’t know how anyone can afford a home in the Boston or San Francisco or Los Angeles — all places where I have lived. To say that people pay $1000.00 per month to live where they live wouldn’t be off the mark.
  3. Food costs seem to be ok, up some, but ok.
  4. Health insurance, not even a consideration before, was costing us $1200 per month when I was getting it through an agency. Speaking from my client’s experience, co-pays prohibit people from getting medical or psychiatric care on any regular basis. Seniors have med costs that are unbelievable.
  5. And then, there’s college. Oh my goodness! As our kids enter the years to look at college, I don’t get it. $40,000 per year seems to be low to average.  Schools cost more money than loans you can get. Even with grants and loans, your kid still has to work. They’ll be the looking at 1,000s of dollars in school loans every month. But I don’t know how anyone affords it. Even if your child can go, it doesn’t guarantee them a job that will pay them enough to pay off the loans.
  6. Retirement? See the above.

I just added up the things above, and a person would have to make $45,600 a year just for the things listed! And that doesn’t even include food or clothing and there’s no retirement. How does this work for anyone? My wife and I both work, both have Master’s Degrees, we don’t have new cars and we live ok.

But how does anyone just starting out in life do this?   How will our children do it? This is unsustainable on any level. Something has to give … everywhere? Housing, transportation, education… these are major issues.

My other question is where does all the money go? If a kid could go to college before on $10,000 per year, for instance, why does it cost 4x that much now (on a good day)? Are they getting 4x more education? What would that look like? Better food service? Better books? Better wi-fi? 

In the same vein, health insurance, the amount of money I make as a provider has barely gone up, and I think in some cases has gone down. I don’t know, but I’m guessing that they’re going up. What accounts for that difference? And if my rates go up, does that mean you’re getting better service? I suppose, but not directly. Heath care makes far less sense. Insurance is confusing, but health care is simple. Nurses work hard, Doctors work hard. Rates soar. Do nurses get that increase? None that I know.

Here’s what I meant about “math still being math” — If the cost of delivering a service goes down (people work harder and fewer people are paid at all, because of cost-cutting) and the rates charged  for that service increase exponentially and the service isn’t better, where does the extra income go? If it’s nobody I know, and I know a lot of people, what is going on?

I get that there are market forces I don’t understand, but this seems soooo straightforward. The math simply doesn’t add up.

Finally, I should explain that I’m not complaining for me, really. This is absurdity to me, but it’s life and death for others.  Financial stress — choosing between food and health care or housing and clothes —  is just a killer.

Anyway, it’s a rant and I have no answers or explanations, only questions. We need to vote for politicians who will answer these question and not sell us the same “bill of goods” that working hard does it all.







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