liz_marcs: From Monty Python's Quest for the Holy Grail.  "Help, help. I'm being repressed." (Monty_Python_Repressed)
liz_marcs ([personal profile] liz_marcs) wrote2013-01-11 06:05 pm

In Which I Discover That I've Crossed a Class Divide

The big news at work: The moment when everyone discovered they had a little less in their paychecks today than usual.

It took me all of one minute to figure it out. The Social Security Tax increased from 3% back up to its previous level of 6% after a two-year holiday. I know this because, y'know, I read the news.

It took my co-workers a little longer to figure it out. Cue the bitching and moaning. Not to mention discussion of what costs they're going to cut to make up for the loss of income.

This was my cue to blink uncomprehendingly at my co-workers.

I mean, yeah. I'm not going to lie. I'm not thrilled about the $110 impact on my bottom line, but it sure as shit not going to kill me. Or put me out of the street. Or take food out of my mouth. But still, the the price for living in a civilized society (which includes some kind of national retirement security) is taxes. I don't love it, but I understand that there's a contract here and I gotta hold up my end of the bargain.

Here's where they lost me: These are people who earn six figures or close to it. Very few of them are down around my level. And they're acting as if the mean ol' federal government is stealing food from their mouths.

And that's when it hit me.

None of these people have ever had to support themselves on pay that was below the living wage.

None of them ever held a job where your income was supplemented by a second job, digging for spare change through the couch cushions (not your couch cushions, because fuck knows you couldn't even afford the damn couch), catch-as-catch-can freelance jobs, gifts of gift cards for the local grocery store from family members, credit card juggling, and for one memorable stretch unemployment insurance.

The difference between them and me is pretty stark:

The second I got a job that paid a half-way decent wage, I immediately started paying off my debt. After 2-and-a-half years, I'm down to owing less than $3,000. It'll be paid off by the end of June.

I have an 11-year-old car that's been paid off for seven years. I have no plans to buy a new one because I don't need one. Would I like to have a new car? Sure! But I don't need it.

I also don't buy all the latest techie toys. Would I like to have techie toys? Sure! But the techie toys I've got work just fine, despite being a little older and a little less shiny.

Would I like to move into a nicer apartment? Sure! But I don't need to. My apartment is perfectly fine with bonus cheap rent. Everything works. It could use a good paint job, but that's about it.

Keep in mind, I'm not exactly living on the cheap. I do spend money on shit I can do without. I also save money by salting it away in 401(K)s, IRAs, and savings accounts. I think I figured out that between everything I'm saving something like 25% of my paycheck. Which I can do, because now I've got the kind of job that allows me to do those things.

But for decades, I didn't have the kind of job that allowed me to do any of that, like pay down debt or save a significant chunk of change. For decades, I had the kind of jobs where putting anything more than 10% of my gross pay into a 401(k) could mean the difference between having an apartment and being evicted. Hell, there were more than a few years where I couldn't even swing putting money into a 401(K) because I needed every red cent to make ends meet.

I can't even wrap my head around the difference between me and them. I simply can't.

Worse, they were all complaining about paying into Social Security because, "It won't be there for us."

My response:  "It will, it just won't pay the full amount if they don't raise taxes on people who can most afford it. You want to preserve Social Security? Vote. Bug the ever-living shit out of your Congress-critter. Social Security may be the only retirement a lot of people in this country are going to have."

They all looked at me like I was out of my mind.

And that's when I felt it.

Somewhere along the way, I crossed a class divide and didn't even know it. Very few of my co-workers (if any) have any idea what it's like to hang on to the bottom rung of the working class by your fingernails. And when I tried to explain reality to them, the reality that most people in this country face day-to-day, the reality I had to live with for decades, they looked at me like I was speaking in a foreign language.

It's enough to make me want to cry.