One of the renters on the farm where I’m living is a nice guy named John. At 56, John has been a mechanic for most of his life, working first in the heavy equipment industry, and more recently in motorcycle repair. After 30 years of manual labor, John’s body is worn and torn. Not long ago, he was laid off by the garage that had employed him for the past decade. He can’t lift like he used to.
In fact, John lives in constant pain from a lifetime of hard work. Unfortunately, the “system” didn’t see fit to judge his pain bad enough to give him any kind of disability payments.
John landed a job as a janitor in the county school system last fall, but that job evaporated six weeks ago. Facing a budget crisis and a dire economic outlook last year, the county commissioners voted to cut tax rates, which resulted in sixteen janitors being terminated, along with every teacher’s aide in every public elementary school in the county.
Every day I watch as John walks gingerly to his old Ford truck to head out in search of work. To put it bluntly, however, there is no work for John and there won’t be any, not in this lifetime. John is screwed seven ways to Sunday after all these years of doing the right thing and playing by the rules. He can’t afford to see a doctor to manage his pain, unless it flares up enough to warrant an emergency visit to the hospital. John told me he wishes he would just go ahead and die. “Where’s the damn death panel when you need one,” he said a few days ago.
According to the Center for Retirement Research, referenced in this American Prospect article, fewer than half of American workers will have enough money to maintain their living standards into retirement. Over half of workers have no pension plan at all, and among those who do, the balance for the average-income household was only about $67,000. Older workers in the highest-earning households have on average only about $173,000, which yields a lifetime monthly income of just $500. The total amount of money available for John to live on is $380 per month. Yesterday, he applied for food stamps.
I say John is a renter, but the truth is, he’s more than a year behind in payments. We’re subsidizing John because we can. But there are millions and millions of John’s out there who don’t happen to have flaming liberal landlords who can afford to let the rent go unpaid. They are hungry and they are in pain. And Republican policymakers have only two words to offer them: tough shit.
Those two words sneer from the mouths of people like Art Pope, even as they marvel at their growing stock portfolios, even as they scurry through corporate loopholes to minimize their taxes. They say that paying 47% of their million-dollar incomes is a burden too large to bear, especially while so many others, people like John, are paying nothing.
How did America get to be so fucked up?