Wednesday, May 03, 2006


So if the gap between rich and poor is gets wider every day, if the rich and powerful few are using immigration reform as an excuse to create a permanent underclass, where does that leave the rest of us?

Two personal anecdotes:

In 2001, my (now ex-) wife, Sue Ellen, who was working for a well-known insurance company, put in for a promotion that would require a transfer to the home office in the D.C. area. She got it, we moved. Her official job title was licensing paralegal. Her starting salary was $35, 000 a year. Not a lot, but respectable.

Meanwhile, being the blue-collar guy that I am, I wound up with the very sort of job our president says Americans won't take: I cleaned houses. Prestige-wise, this job would be the lowest of the low.

But here's the kicker: In terms of actual take-home pay, Sue Ellen was only bringing home about a hundred bucks more a week than me. Once deductions are considered, 35,000 a year doesn't amount to that much. And shortly before we split up, she got a raise which put her closer to 40,000 a year--which means she was bringing home a hundred and fifty more a week than me.

So for our time together on the east coast, we were making between 50, 000 and 60,000 a year. Two people (okay, and a cat) should be able to live comfortably with an income like that. And while we were doing okay, our heads weren't too far above the water. And when we split up, Sue Ellen had to immediately scramble to find a room mate, because there was no way she could afford to pay the rent on her salary alone.

You could argue that if Sue Ellen had been making, say, 50,000 a year, the difference between her check and mine would have been considerably different. But my point is, the difference between 35,000 and 50,000, in terms of take-home pay, isn't that great. At this economic level, where so many Americans dwell, we're all wage slaves, one devastating financial hit away from ruin.

Which brings me to anecdote number two.

Upon hearing that both of my parents had colon cancer, my doctor said flatly, "Well, that's it. No question. We'll set up a colonoscopy." It could take a while to sat up, he told me, they're backlogged, blah, blah, blah...and oh, he said, be sure to call your insurance company and make sure this is covered.

First thing the insurance guy wanted to know was, Is this a routine procedure or a medical procedure? Well, I wondered, isn't it a medical procedure by definition?

No, he explained. Is it just part of a routine exam, a preventative measure, or is it medically necessary, as in they suspect they're going to find something and it's a probable prelude to surgery?

Because in the first case, I'm fully covered. In the second case--in which my life could literally depend on getting this done--I'm screwed. When insurance would most be needed, that's when it would not kick in.

Fortunately for me, it's routine. But what if it wasn't? What if my life depended on something I couldn't afford? And how many people routinely have surgery done, assuming their insurance will cover it, only to discover afterwards there's some exception in their coverage? How many people's lives are ruined every day?

Of course, these are just anecdotes from my life. They have nothing to do with the real world. It's not like we're living in a country ruled by a power-mad cabal, openly hostile to the rights and needs of the individual, concerned only with giving more to those who don't need it, tax breaks to the wealthy, and power to the already powerful. It's not like gas prices are soaring and supposed economic growth is a house of cards built on quicksand. It's not the middle class is caught in a dream of success it will never achieve. It's not like more people become homeless every day.

it's not like that at all.