Monthly Archives: July 2009

The American Dream: Set up to fail.


Here we are, the twenty-first century, with our parents’ hopes behind us that we will embrace a greater life than they had, that we will see our dreams realized, that we can build our lives as we want them.  This ideal, of course, does not exclude unforeseen problems, road bumps, health issues –that’s understood.  But, every generation genuinely wants a better life for the generation after it and the generation after that one too. Unfortunately this dream has become impossible.

Let me explain.  I am over 35, college-educated, married, and have a child.  I teach in a university in mornings and come home by 1 so that my husband can leave for work by 3.  He is college-educated too, but he got a second-shift job in a printing shop so that we don’t need daycare.  We live in a small four-room duplex and live extremely simply and frugal compared to those around us.  I take the train to work, he rides our bike. We walk to the grocery store, we don’t buy anything extravagant in any way, but we are particular.  You will find no foods with hydronated or partially-hydronated oils or high fructose corn syrup in our kitchen.  Therefore, you find a lot of fresh fruits, vegetables, grains, and meats. Believe it or not, this is cheaper.  Even if it wasn’t, this is the one place in our budget that we won’t negotiate.

We will rarely buy anything unless we absolutely need it.  I’m telling you this, because I doubt you know anyone else as conservative with their spending as we are.  We have to be, we don’t have much.  I get him to cut my hair.  I had to wait about 5 months before we could get a color ink cartridge so that I could print pictures of our baby.  When we got married, we got almost $2000.00 in gifts of money.  We each took $100 for ourselves and paid bills with the rest.  Not credit card bills (we don’t have any) or anything like that, just the usual utilities, car, rent, that sort of thing.

With that said, let me say this.  I don’t know anyone in my generation who has not filed for bankruptcy, had something repossessed, and/or is at least 5 digits in debt.  The number one cause of bankruptcy?  Medical bills.  We are seeing that up close and personal.

My pregnancy and the birthing process were covered by my insurance.  I went around saying what great insurance I had.  I wanted a mid-wife –no problem.  Water birth?  Sure!  All together, I was told it would cost me $310 out of pocket.  I had heard horror stories of thousands of dollars. I counted my blessings.  I was also told that my short-term disability would pay me 70% for 27 weeks of maternity leave!  (There’s no such thing as maternity leave in America anymore.  It’s called a short-term disability now and you need to pay extra to your insurance company for the coverage and you must sign up before you even think about getting pregnant.)  I was ecstatic.  All that wonderful bonding time and recovery time.  I dreamt about it.  What perfect dreams.  We would take walks every day.  I suddenly loved my job even more for providing me with this opportunity.  Then my water broke.