As in inveterate eavesdropper, I enjoy “Dear Abby” type columns. Presently, I like Slate.com’s “Dear Helaine” who answers personal finance questions.
Today’s “Dear Helaine” letter stopped me in my tracks because it succinctly and powerfully captures so many citizens’ dire reality.
I am 41 years old and have not come into any windfalls of money, nor is there any hope I will. My financial situation is as follows: I make $15 an hour plus tips, and my paycheck is usually about $1,300 every two weeks after taxes. My rent and utilities take up about half of this income. My husband is unable to work because of a disability that is not disabling enough to qualify for Social Security. Our children are 22, 19, and 16. We have been living in a cycle of poverty pretty much for the past 23 years. And yes, we’ve been hit with student loans and medical bills that just don’t get paid—my husband is $30,000 in default. My older kids are working in low-wage jobs, $10 to $12 an hour, but as of now are not contributing to household expenses because I want them to build a life outside of the money-sucking hole of my reality. So, yeah, it’s dire. What kind of financial planning helps people get out of poverty? I am moderately intelligent and a really hard worker. I’m also kind of giving up. Most of the time, I would rather spend $8 on a pack of PBR than plan for retirement or emergency funds. My financial life is an emergency. Is there a way to climb out of this?
As I read it, I thought of Conservative Republicans’ knee-jerk response to poverty, people are lazy. I trust that this woman is telling the truth when she says she’s a “really hard worker”.
I purposely didn’t read Helaine’s response because I wanted to think about it independently. And I wanted to know what you think.
Two initial observations.
• student loans and minimum wage jobs, will their young adult children get college degrees, will those degrees provide them with any kind of competitive edge ?
• the husband is a “net loss”, spending, but not earning, can he do anything to generate some income?
It’s very easy to understand how the author, and the legions in her situation, would simply say “fuck it”, I’m going to enjoy today a little bit because tomorrow is looking real bleak.
I’m going to go back now and read Helaine’s reply. Mine would take a long time to write because there is no easy answer or quick fix to the family’s predicament. Of course the same is true of poverty writ large.
Final thought. Will this woman, her husband, and the 19 and 22 year olds vote? If so, for whom? They, and the legions like them, could determine the election.
[Can’t decide whether to give Olen an “A” or “A-“. Either way, a caring and thoughtful reply.]