Friday, January 16, 2009

Mary Pitt: "The View from the Bottom"

The greatest problem as the new President and the Congress attempt to enact remedies to the very real problems of the poor, the disabled, and the laboring class, (not the much-broader "working class"), is that they do not know or understand exactly what it is that they are trying to "fix". With the exception of the President, none of them have ever wanted for food, clothing, or medical care, (and even he, Thank God, had grandparents of substance who were able to be of assistance.)

The trials with which we must deal every day are totally foreign to them. They do not know and never even visit in the homes in the tenements, the poor neighborhoods, or even the common homes in the small rural villages which dot the plains and the industrial areas of our nation. Those who knock on our doors during campaigns are college kids asking for our votes and will promise us anything in return for our pledges. Should our congresspersons come "home" to run for re-election, they will appear at a local watering hole where they can address a large number of people and those who get to speak to them personally are the local party officials.

How, then, can we demonstrate to those whom we see on our televisions as they advocate for our right to "choice" that, in fact, our choices are few? They say that we have a choice where we get our medical care, not knowing that we must "choose" a physician or a medical facility that is near us or to which there is public transportation available or that, in the worst case, will accept Medicaid patients. Sure, we can go to the Emergency Room of the big, shiny hospital on the hill but, if they treat us, the bill that would follow us home would send us straight to bankruptcy court, (if we could afford the up-front fees for an attorney to file the papers that are necessary to allow that relief).

There is no "choice" as to where we work. With the true number of unemployed and under-employed at almost twenty per cent nationwide, it may be even worse on a given local level, and any job we can get that pays a subsistence wage is where we work. If that job involves working in a harmful atmosphere, we will breathe noxious fumes or dust for eight hours a day so the kids will not be crying from hunger. If our bodies ache from fatigue, disease, or just advancing age, we will endure it until we can go home to our leaking roofs or our noisy tenements and try to shake it off and rest so that we can do it again tomorrow.

We also have a "choice" as to which insurance company administers our health care. That's a laugh! We can't afford any of them. The premiums would require us to pay half our annual income! If that income falls below what the people in Washington think our family can live on, we might be eligible for Medicaid or, at least, S-CHIP for the kids, but Moms and Dada must still fend for themselves. So they burn out their bodies, aging before they are old and striving for the Holy Grail of Social Security and Medicare, if death does not come first.

There is not even a "choice" of where we live. We must go into the "sub-standard" housing in the lower parts of town or to Section 8 units for which we do not qualify unless we are on welfare or disabled. Otherwise they are even more costly than the run-down old houses that we rent. And, don't even go into our "choice of lifestyle". Our meager nutritional needs are met by purchasing the cheapest food at the market; potatoes, rice, pasta, and sometimes, hot dogs or hamburger. We do not even qualify for food stamps as some accountant in Washington thinks we make too much money. Yet we are blamed for our own illnesses, many of which are caused by the poverty that has fallen upon us by our lack of better-off family to help, education, or simple misfortune.

Our new President may understand us due to his own childhood poverty but, mostly, due to his work with poor communities in Chicago but it remains to be seen whether he can infuse all the congress and the bureaucrats with this understanding so that they can work effectively at solving some of the problems with which we are beset. Yet, the working poor, the disabled, and the handicapped are people to whom hope is a foreign concept. Our only ambition becomes merely surviving for another day so that maybe, just maybe, our kids will be able to find a way to have a better life.


President Bush has told us for eight years that we must take advantage of all our "choices" and pull ourselves up by our boot straps. Well, our boots have holes in the soles so that we must wear bread bags over our socks to try to keep our feet warm and dry. But we DO understand the political system and we understand the dire straits by which our nation as a whole is suffering. We understand that our national debt will be a burden upon the several generations not yet born. And, when we hear all the talk about needing to "cut entitlements" or to "adjust Social Security", we feel the dark hand of doom hovering over us like the Angel of Death and the bright star of hope becomes even further away.

The author is a very "with-it" old lady who aspires to bring a bit of truth, justice, and common sense to a nation that has lost touch with its humanity in the search for "societal perfection".

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