In today’s news cycle, the big story (well, there are a couple of them swirling around) is the Republican idea for the replacement of the ACA (Affordable Care Act aka “Obamacare”).
I haven’t read the bill yet, to be honest; I’m reading a book called Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich. This book is about people who work low-wage jobs and how difficult it is to get out of them.
When I think about my desire to serve my neighbors as a representative in Congress, I’m scared to death: I’d be a fool not to be. But I’ve worked my share of low-income jobs, and I know, I know, we’re not being heard on Capitol Hill.
My first job was as a cashier in an A&P grocery store. I’ve worked in bookstores, clothing stores, and a PetsMart store as a pet trainer. I’ve worked in offices as a temp, and I’ve worked in offices as a full time paid worker. I’ve lived in my friend’s basement, I’ve kept my car going $10 at the pump at a time.
I’ve worked with injuries and through illness, because I couldn’t afford to take time off. An unexpected visit to an urgent care facility could take an entire day’s wages.
Currently I work in a low-income, HUD -subsidized apartment community. Some of my tenants are elderly, and live on about $850 per month. Others are on TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) which is about $234 per month for one child. Some people are not employable — perhaps they’re chronic alcoholics, or disabled but not yet been awarded Social Security Disability.
Some of my tenants have jobs.
If you’re a single mother and working at the local White Castle, this is how it breaks down:
$8.00 per hour x 30 hours per week (so that you’re under the threshold for benefits) = $240/ week wages x 52 weeks/year =$12,480 gross annual income.
HUD mandates we calculate rent on estimated annual gross income (yep, before taxes) — but if you have a child, we deduct $480 and calculate your rent on your adjusted gross income. So:
$12,480 – $480 = $12,000 adjusted gross income. Also, HUD mandates that 30% of your adjusted gross income goes to rent, so $12,000 x 30% = $3600/12 = $300 per month for rent.
Remember, you’re making $240 a week gross. If you think ahead, and you’re paid weekly, you can put $75 out of each check aside towards your rent, but you still have your other bills, like transportation and possibly childcare.
How do you build yourself a better life with this? It’s not impossible, but it’s damned hard.
There is a very real and very unfair burden on the lower and middle class of America.
We’re expected to pay for everything.
I want to change that. I want the balance scales to sit more evenly. I want my friends to have more take home money in their paychecks, and I want that $8 an hour White Castle worker to have a better shot at being a middle class earner.
I want to teach my fellow Americans in Congress that the Middle Class of America isn’t a steer you can gut and drain — we are the backbone of this country, and in order to keep the backbone strong, you have to keep the core strong.
I’ve been told that I’m not ready for this because that I don’t have enough connections, that I’m not activist enough, that I don’t know the “right” people. Maybe these things are true, but what I do have is heart. I’m willing to give my heart to my neighbors and do this job for them, and it will be my job, my only job. I’m not a lawyer, I’m not a nurse, I’m not a minister; I don’t have another career to fall back on.
So when you start hearing ads for candidates, think about that — what else do they do?