Have you ever gone without food for days? Not because you're on some "fasting" diet, but because you have only a little food, no money to buy more, and two growing children who need the food more than you do.
Have you ever worried about how your kids would do their homework if the electricity was turned off, hoping you'd be able to pay the bill before the electric company cut you off? So the food you just bought for your kids didn't spoil?
Have you ever had to swallow your pride and ask a non-profit organization to help you pay the deposit for a new apartment, so your kids could have a roof over their heads, and so you didn't lose your parental rights because you're living on the street? Or have you ever had to push back paying your rent so you have gasoline in your car, so you can make it to your job, to avoid being fired, so you can pay your bills and feed your kids?
Or have you ever had to hide your car at a friend's house until you got a paycheck, to avoid having your car repossessed? Or gone nearly two years with no health benefits, because you can't afford the COBRA payment from the job you lost, and can't afford a private health care plan? Have you then had to hope and pray every day that you didn't have to go to the doctor for an ailment or injury?
I've done all of these things in the last four years. I'm not proud of it. And I sure as hell never thought I'd be in this position. At one point, not that long ago, just a little over six years ago actually, I was living a charmed life not unlike many of my friends. I lived in a $400,000 home with my wife and two kids, enjoying suburban life (as much as my free spirit was able to, anyway), and outside of a rocky marriage, pretty much happy with my life.
I was the upper middle class. In the waining days of my marriage, I was living in a neighborhood surrounded by people who wanted lower taxes, and loathed anything to do with welfare or food stamps, because the people who relied on those things were obviously not working hard enough to better themselves. They expected people to pull themselves up by their bootstraps. And at the time, I guess I was too naive to know how close I was to becoming the person who my neighbors saw as the enemy. The sponge to their hard earned liquidity.
And then the spiral happened. I've chronicled this plenty in previous blog entries, so I won't rehash my trip hitting bottom. But I do want to point out that the political climate in this country has gotten more extreme in that six years. We've now become a country of "haves" and "have nots," divided by class more and more as each day goes on. The middle class is disappearing faster than Congress's approval rating.
And on a regular basis, via my online addiction, Facebook, I'm reminded of my situation through such reposts as "If you're on welfare, you should be drug tested, because I'm drug tested to get my job. REPOST if you AGREE." Or "If you can afford cigarettes, beer, and a fancy car, you don't need food stamps or an unemployment check."
Or one that just last month that appeared all over Facebook, seen in the image above, dubbed as "The Five Best Sentences You'll Ever Read." I took personal offense to the image, as it not only stereotyped our "safety net" recipients, but also demonized them as abusers of the system, stealing from the prosperous. I had some tough words with friends, and probably took it too personally. But you see, that's the only way I CAN take it. Because I HAVE been in those shoes.
I have no disdain for anyone gaining prosperity in life. I'd love it if everyone I knew had more money than they knew what to do with. But as our country struggles to recover from the worst economic times since the Great Depression, wealth is just not a reality for most of my friends. In fact, in the two and a half years since my store opened, every single one of my employees has struggled during the last few days of each pay period, sometimes literally having no money to spend. And most of them have two jobs.
What I DO have disdain for is the demonization of poverty. Because poverty is NOT a stereotype. Poverty does not discriminate. Poverty will take down people with important job titles, people who drive fancy SUVs, people that live in large mansions, and even people who attend GOP Fundraisers to support a Tea Party candidate. Poverty is something that can easily happen to ANYONE. I know this firsthand.
Ironically, many of the people who are demonizing those living in poverty espouse their strong Christian faith. Last time I read The Bible, I don't recall Jesus advocating turning your backs on the poor or weary. Yet they wrap themselves in the Scripture, the Flag, and their Stocks and Bonds Portfolio, and point their finger at the poor, condemning them for their laziness, their selfishness, and their ability to steal money from them via our "Socialist" government.
The hatred grows for the poor, yet when there are people who dare take on the "One Percent" through the Occupy Movement, the wealthy portray the protesters as intolerant, violent youth who are too lazy to get jobs. This country is tearing itself at the seams with hatred. And make no mistake, it's happening from both ends of the political and economic spectrum. But me, I'm down here, with the little guys. So that's the perspective I can best relate to. I may have more easily related to those demonizing the poor back in 2005. But time has a way of changing things.
Please point at me, post your "REPOST" on my wall, whatever it takes. Because my friends, I AM the lower class.