As a good humanist, Judeo-Christian-leaning liberal, I was raised to protect and defend the poor--an instinct so ingrained I have voted and given every year of my adult life from the compass of my bleeding heart. Even growing up under the poverty line, I still had it drilled into me that we were fortunate, and the "truly poor," were to receive our prayers and whatever government subsidies my mother was too proud to take.
But today, as the news travels that class tension has now surpassed racial divides and immigrant mistrust as our nation's greatest source of friction, I can only offer this warning to the the "haves": It isn't about the poor anymore. It isn't about the faceless and imagined "downtrodden"--a group we may pity but can easily forget. For the middle class, this time it's personal. This time it's us.
As a member of the middle class (whatever that actually means anymore) I have watched the Great Recession creep steadily outwards and up over the last two years. For awhile, it was still hitting a select few--we all knew people who had lost their jobs and were struggling to make ends meet, but it all seemed so random. The sniper-style hits on families were scary, but it still seemed a matter of luck.
Now, however, the recession is hitting nearly everyone in my college-educated, professional peer group. More of us have lost jobs. More of us fear the security of our jobs. More of us are muttering about the cost of groceries, worrying about gas prices, struggling with how to pay for heating bills and phone bills and trips to see family.
At least half of my friends with small children are staying home with their kids because they cannot afford to work. Childcare costs--particularly for two children--outstrips possible incomes, making working a losing venture for many of us.
But it's healthcare costs that have become the true lodestone around the neck of the middle class. For those with employer-paid insurance, it only takes one broken arm and $3,000 in bills later to realize just how little most insurance plans really cover.
And for those of us, like my husband and I, who are self-employed, the insurance situation is bleaker still. Because I have ulcerative colitis, a chronic condition that leaves me nearly disabled, I need to remain insured. My husband, daughter, and I pay $800 a month for our health insurance and over $100 a month for my prescriptions. I recently received a bill for $400 for a test that I was assured would cost $50. All told, we easily put out $1,000+ a month for healthcare costs.
How is this sustainable? How is this right?
If we were poor, we could go on Medicaid. If we were rich, we wouldn't have to worry about our costs. But because we're middle class, we just have to suck it up?
If we were poor, we could get childcare subsidies, and food subsidies. If we were rich, we could just hire nannies and buy whatever groceries we wanted. But because we're middle class we just have to hand over our entire paychecks for preschool or stay at home with our kids full-time and watch our earnings potential dwindle?
I feel for the poor. I really do. I know there are pains the poor, not to mention the mentally-ill or disabled poor deal with that I am fortunate enough to be spared. And even with our own struggles to make it day-to-day, we still donate every month to a food bank. But the time has come when I feel nearly as much for the middle class. However battered, we may be hanging on today, but if we don't get help with childcare and healthcare, we will soon disappear into the widening hole of poverty.
Things cannot continue as they are.