Friday, September 7, 2012

Maybe the Republicans are Right: It's My Own Damn Fault

The GOP presents the American Dream with sincere conviction:  ANYONE can succeed in America!!  If you work hard, your efforts will be rewarded.  Or at least that was the case before the election of President Obama, a Muslim/ Marxist/ Kenyan hellbent on destroying the dream and stealing success from hard-working Americans.  But I cannot blame my failure on Obama.  No, my financial decline began in the mid-1990s, although the seed was planted in college.  Perhaps I have only myself to blame.  Join me as I reflect back on this train wreck that my life has become, trying to figure out how I went wrong.

I clearly remember being told as a child, “If you do well in school, you will succeed in life.”  If only that were true!  I was a straight-A student except for a few A minuses or even (gasp!) one B plus, for which I was punished by my parents; my alleged high IQ left me with no excuse for ever getting less than an A.  Besides, I had to get good grades to keep my scholarship, without which they could not afford to send me to Punahou (where Obama also attended, likewise on scholarship) and later, college.  I wonder, if I am really so damn smart, why aren’t I rich?! 

Admittedly, in my youth I didn’t focus on money and career, and did not place much importance on material things.  I did work, though!  At age 17 I worked as a maid, then in college as a model and a tutor.  But, my goal in life was to become enlightened, to change the world, to help bring about peace.  I naively believed that if you tried to be a good, spiritual person, following your dharma and thinking positively, the universe would somehow take care of your material needs.  I later learned in the School of Hard Knocks, that this was not the case.  I did spend a great deal of time doing yoga and meditation, dance and music, and reading LOTS of deep books.  And I got my B.A. in Philosophy.

For this huge blunder I take full responsibility, although it seemed like a good idea at the time, and my professors assured me I could make a decent living as a writer.  Kids, listen to me:  Do NOT get a degree in Philosophy unless you want a job saying, “Do you want fries with that?” or unless you can go on to law school, or get a Ph.D. and teach at the college level, or alternatively, marry a rich person who can support you while you write books that nobody wants to buy.  So yes, it was completely my own fault.

I decided to get a slightly more practical Master’s degree, in Psychology.  I would become a counselor – a respectable job where I could make a living helping people!  My school lost its MFCC licensing status the year I graduated, so I could not bill insurance for my patients and therefore had to charge a lot less.  But I could still practice counseling until the law changed a few years later, making my profession illegal for anyone without the specific license which I could not obtain.

So, I was employed at various soul-sucking 8-to-5 office jobs.  I did teach yoga occasionally on the side but at that time, in the 1980s, did not think of it as a potential career.  One of my jobs was in property management where I personally saved the company hundreds of thousands of dollars and in return was paid enough to rent a tiny apartment, cover most of my bills and even take a little vacation or see an occasional rock concert.  I was satisfied with the meager income but I wanted to do something more “meaningful” with my life.  I grew weary of slaving away to make money for the corporation so that the CEO could buy another car to park in front of his big gorgeous home in Newporsche Beach, which he deserved since of course he worked WAY harder than me and all the other low-paid employees, even if he did seem to spend a lot of time on the golf course or his yacht instead of the office.

Then in 1991, in spite of being essentially the poster girl for a healthy lifestyle, I suddenly got very, very sick.  My immune system stopped working and every time a cold went around the office, I would catch it hard and end up with pneumonia.  I had lots of doctor appointments and missed some work.  When I had used up my 7 allotted sick days I was told I could not miss any more work.  With the next bout of pneumonia I missed another day, and upon returning from the doctor’s office my boss said I was fired.  However, they could not technically fire me because the doctor had placed me on Disability for a diagnosis of CFIDS (Chronic Fatigue Immune Dysfunction Syndrome – an “incurable illness” according to mainstream medicine).

But, I didn’t want to be Disabled.  So, while living with friends, I went back to school via correspondence and got certified in Medical Transcription, a job that I could do from home.  I passed exams with flying colors and was soon employed as a Medical Language Specialist.  At that time, fresh out of school with no experience, I made about $35/hour.  I was able to pay my bills working just 4 hours a day, but by 1994 even that became too much and the doctors told me, “You will never work again.  We are going to put you on SSDI.”

I moved to Florida to be near family and my SSDI was turned down by the State even though it had been preliminarily approved in California.  I got an attorney and went through the grueling 3-stage process and was still denied SSDI.  I went to HRS to apply for welfare.  Seeing the other people in line – ladies in very smart outfits with beautiful jewelry, hair and nails – I felt I was in the right place, as obviously Florida was generous with welfare.  But when I got to the window the clerk asked me, “Do you have children?”  “No,” I said.  “Then we can’t help you,” she said.  “There is no welfare for adults.  That is why it’s called ‘Aid to Families with Dependent Children.’  Next!”  Yes, I fully admit that was MY fault.  I chose to use birth control so as not to have children, thereby making myself ineligible for welfare benefits.

Were it not for the generosity of my parents, who were by no means wealthy, I would have been on the street.  Fortunately they provided for me while I gradually regained my strength with the help of yoga and holistic medicine.  After a while I went back to work in medical transcription, although I had become disillusioned with mainstream medicine.  I wanted to work in counseling, but since I could not legally do so, I got a job reading Tarot on a popular Psychic hotline.  This was a very enjoyable job which somewhat justified my education and paid about $50/hour!  I was delighted and relieved to finally be able to make a living.

A few years later, however, that company went belly up.  I had no other prospects and returned to medical transcription, which now paid only about $10-15/hour and on a “contractor” basis ( = double taxes and no benefits).  I was putting in well over 40 hours a week and could just barely make ends meet.

I then made the next big financial mistake of my life when I fell in love with a poor man.  Mom had told me, “You can just as easily love a rich man as a poor man, so choose wisely.”  I had met a couple of rich men who expressed interest in me but they were arrogant, rude and bossy.  Then I met this sweet, kind, spiritual man who was dirt poor.  Mom, however, loved him.  He said he had 2 children whose mother abandoned them.  He had tried to be "Mr. Mom" but could not afford childcare on his minimum wage job, and they were "adopted" (?) by their aunt.  After moving in with me he was unexpectedly served with papers demanding child support which he could not afford to pay and never knew that he owed. 

In 2006 his boss went to jail for tax evasion, and my partner was out of a job.  Work had become very scarce around here and he, being unable to find a job, decided to start his own flooring business, for which I became the unpaid manager/ secretary/ accountant.  It was very expensive to run the business and his bids were continually undercut by bigger companies and/or those which operated illegally.  He subsequently had to take a low-paying subcontract with a construction company doing dangerous work outside his area of expertise, incurring frequent injuries and not covered by health insurance or Worker’s Comp.

We were living in an aging trailer and decided to build a house which we ultimately could not afford to live in.  I have tried to sell it, but it now is worth less than it cost to build and nobody wanted to buy except for 1 person who could not get a loan despite having a good job as a firefighter/ paramedic.  The amount of rent I am able to get for the house is not enough to cover the mortgage, property taxes and insurance.  The floor of the trailer is rotting out and we cannot afford to have it fixed.  I do not feel responsible in any way for the crash of the housing market or the economy in general.

In 2009 when my mother was very ill with end-stage type 1 diabetes, I took some time off of work periodically to help Dad with various medical emergencies.  As a result somebody was hired to “help” cover for me.  When I tried to return to work full-time I found that I had essentially been replaced – the “helper” had taken over and I was left with only part-time work.  In addition, a lot of our transcription jobs had gone offshore in the past 10 years and the work was petering out.  I had to find something else to do.

That was when I decided to open my yoga studio, an endeavor which also appears to be doomed.  (See my other blog  Many students have dropped out due to lack of funds.  They feel that $10 is too much for a class, although people cheerfully paid me $20 back in the 1980s.  Yoga is a luxury and they could use that $10 to buy a loaf of bread and a gallon of milk to feed their family. 

I recently went back to school online and got certified as a Holistic Wellness Counselor.  Unfortunately I am finding that the people who most need holistic wellness counseling are the least able to afford it.

Meanwhile I have signed up with 3 psychic lines, 1 of which was “pay to play” (each psychic pays for their own advertising) and I barely broke even.  I also enlisted on as an advisor in spirituality/ religion (was rejected in psychology/ counseling due to lack of license); this one cost $50 to join and has generated zero income thus far.  The other two are going reasonably well and I feel good about my work, but they only pay at best about $10/hour these days, usually less.  One of the psychic lines also pays me to write blogs; not much, just $10 per article once a week, but it’s quite flattering to finally be paid to write.

Back when I was making good money, I had adopted 2 horses who needed a home; a bad idea, but I could afford it at the time, and I had no way of knowing that my income would later drop so drastically.  A horse can eat almost as much as my partner’s teenage son!  I tried to find a good home for them without success.  I cannot allow them to go to slaughter.  I recently insured the horses for liability.  I had hoped to offer “horse therapy” for handicapped children, but was prevented by licensing restrictions.  I began offering riding lessons 2 months ago and it has rained nearly every day since.  I have no control over the weather.  We shall see how it goes.  If the horses fail to generate income, at least they are a great tax deduction, something which apparently the wealthy (e.g. Ann Romney) have known about for a while.

So, I have essentially 4 [self-employed] “jobs” – none of which generates a steady income.

In summary, then, the Republicans are right, to an extent:  My poverty is partially my own fault.  I got a stupid degree in Philosophy, adopted horses, fell in love with a poor man, built a house, and took time off work to help care for my dying mother.  Beyond that, no.  I work hard!!  It is not my fault that government regulations prevent me from getting a job in my field.  It is not my fault that jobs were sent offshore.  It is not my fault that by 2008 my jobs paid about 1/3 what they did in the early 1990s.

Am I saying, “poor me”?  No, “poor us”!  All 98% of us.  Surely I am not the only American in this situation.  There are plenty of other intelligent, hard-working people who believed in the American Dream and now find themselves struggling merely to survive.  Not because we are lazy or stupid, but because we are still waiting for the trickle-down that was promised years ago and never happened.

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