Random musings, observations, squeaks, whimpers and perhaps the ocassional rant. About what, I'm not sure.

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Middle Class America On The Edge...

For my LEADERship class, a team of us are working on a video homework project to project the effects of this year’s hurricanes on “working families”.  You wouldn’t believe what we saw/found.

Our format will be news interview-style, with on-camera interviewers (our team) and the subjects interacting, back and forth.  All the subjects were good sports; we’re addressing a hard set of topics to ask or answer on, but so far it looks good.

One of our subjects is a single dad, running his own business and just making ends meet.  He chooses to work for himself and have a business because it provides him maximum flexibility to be with his daughter, who is elementary-school aged.  He is bright, articulate, and socially conscious – but has no insurance or benefits of any kind for himself.  So while he makes ends meet and is able to afford to live here in Martin County where he likes the community, feels safe and sees a great educational system for his daughter, he worries about that next job or the next unexpected bill like most of us have, I suppose – but its the constant, nagging kind of worry, not just the fleeting kind of worry.  Doesn’t own a home – doesn’t expect to have the means to for some time.

Our second set of subjects was a family of 6 with two breadwinners.  Who have nearly the same set of practical and financial issues as the first subject.  The mother in this family is a child care provider, and got into that line of work so she could afford child care for her own child.  She’s pursuing higher education, but even pays direct child care costs for her son who accompanies her to work (and the employer can’t comp his/her employees for bringing kid to their school/daycare based on income?).  The father is a tradesman, working in the electrical trade, but job security is not a word often used in that arena.  He’s going to school nights to study to be a barber, which he figures he can make at least the same money and maybe more and have some actual job security.  The kids were adorable, and well behaved.  Which is absolutely freaking amazing since this family – these 6 folks – have been living in a 400 square foot FEMA travel trailer since the hurricanes.  Sheesh.  Oh – no medical benefits for the family, except the kids are covered by a State program so they get some medical care.  Home ownership is not even on the radar for these folks… making monthly bills work is.

Subject three is an articulate, 40–something mother of three who works as an admin at a family member’s construction company.  Her husband has a small excavating business; she studies for a masters degree online nights.  Between her three jobs she works about 65 hours a week (plus the school time, of course).  Their excavating business was building and profitable before the hurricanes – now, not so much.  With the lack of telephones for almost 30 days the pipeline pretty well dries up, and with their type of work (site prep for new construction) not being the priority when everyone’s recovering from having their roofs blown off, etc., little income today.  These folks seems squarely middle class to me – two working parents, an educated mom seeking higher education, etc. – and yet because of an unforeseen medical crisis they’ve got a bill for $50K from hospital and they have no idea how to pay it.  What do you do – mortgage/lose your home to pay for your ruptured appendix?  Come on…

I’ve always seen a gap between what I’ve perceived as “the have’s” and “the have not’s”.  These folks would seem on any other day like “have nots” to me, but they do today.  I hope it all works out for them.  Maybe in some small way our project will help them, or the scores of other folks like them I that I bump into or walk right past every day. 

Definitely makes you think…


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