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Reflection

It’s Not Fair, But It Doesn’t Have To Stay That Way

“What do you find unfair?” Jenna Kutcher asks.

That’s a good question. I find a lot of things unfair. The world seems very unfair, and it seems like most people don’t care about making it fair. I grew up with very conservative parents in a conservative church in a conservative part of Missouri, so I grew up with the idea that it was unfair if anyone got anything more than what they “deserved,” especially if they were unemployed or poor.

Ironically, I grew up in poverty, and getting aid from the state was something that my parents argued about a lot. It took us literally having no food in the house for my parents to apply for and receive food stamps.

Pride is great, but you can’t eat pride.

Speaking of money, the minimum wage is unfair. It’s common knowledge that it was set up to be the minimum for workers to support their families. And at the time that it was made the law, it did just that. Thanks to inflation and greed, the minimum wage isn’t even enough to support one person, much less an entire family.

Growing up, I heard, “It’s not fair–it’s Republican,” and it was seen as a good thing that things weren’t fair.

It is not good that things are not fair. There are so many people who lose out on opportunities for success because they were not born into wealth and don’t have the networking connections that come with being born into those circles. Even the ability to take an internship or a practicum is unfair, because most of them are unpaid, and people who don’t have wealthy parents or a wealthy spouse often have to turn them down. My husband had to take an unpaid practicum to complete his degree, and even though I was working full-time for $17 an hour, I still went into debt just keeping our family housed and fed.

Shortly after my husband completed the unpaid practicum, I had our surprise baby (I was on birth control pills, and I became one of the 1%ers who get pregnant while using the pill correctly). My state’s rules regarding FMLA stated that I hadn’t worked long enough to qualify for it, so I lost my job. Fortunately, my husband was able to find a job with a pretty good nonprofit. Once he completed his degree and got his provisional counseling license, they immediately hired him as a counselor. He loves what he does, and he loves helping people heal, and it’s wonderful.

And it was just as well about me losing my job, because our new baby had GERD, and keeping her clean and fed was a 24/7 job. I don’t remember most of her first year because of the sleep deprivation I experienced, but she’s healthy and happy.

Unfortunately, during that time, I went blind in my right eye a week after I turned 40. The doctor I saw first said it was an inflamed retina, and it would heal in two months.

It did not heal, though the blind spot got slightly smaller. The eyesight in my left eye is considerably worse than the eyesight in my right eye, so even with correction, I’m considered legally blind.

The worst part is that it’s really hard to read and write now. I used to be able to read voraciously, and now I can’t. I also used to be able to type quickly with few mistakes, and now I’m a typo queen. It’s so frustrating. I feel like I’m being tricked by my eyes all of the time.

I ended up filing for disability, and I found out that SSDI requires “work credits.” I had no idea. I had been working up until a few months before I lost my vision in my right eye, and I had been freelancing (and paying taxes like a responsible citizen, but that didn’t count, apparently), but it wasn’t enough “work credits” for me to get SSDI. Unfortunately, I didn’t qualify for SSI because my husband made too much money for me to get it.

And that leads me to another unfair thing. CB used to get SSI due to her autism, but she doesn’t anymore because I worked and my husband now works. In fact, we have to repay the SSA because I misunderstood reporting. I thought I was supposed to let the SSA know if CB got a job or got married, but apparently, my income as her parent and my husband’s income as her stepfather counted against her. The child support CB receives from her father also counts as income, and I think that’s really unfair to her.

We’re in the welfare gap. We make “too much” to get all but the most extended of aid, like CHIP and expanded Medicaid, but we make too little to survive without going into debt and visiting food pantries just to keep everyone fed, clothed, clean, and housed.

And that leads me to what I find the most unfair of all: our society in the US is designed to keep poor people in poverty regardless of how hard they work or how much they sacrifice to escape it. Both of my parents are proof positive. They worked so hard that my father literally broke his back working, and my mother herniated her entire spine. My mother escaped poverty by marrying her fourth husband, who had an inheritance from his late father that enabled him to buy a home even though he was a factory worker. My father lived with my brother and his wife and my nephew until they decided to move to the St. Louis metro to get away from Columbia. They’re staying with my mother and her fourth husband while they save up to buy a house. My father will be living with them again after they are able to buy their house.

This is not fair at all. My parents should be able to live on their own with their social security payments, but they can’t. The expense of rent, mortgages, utilities, food, everything…it’s just too much for them to be able to live on their own, even if they want to. I should have been able to live on my own with CB on her SSDI, but it wasn’t enough, so I had to live with family until I married my husband. There was no way we could afford to rent anything on our own.

“What about Section 8?” you might ask. Well, here, there’s a waiting list to get on the waiting list for Section 8, and that waiting list is YEARS long. I wish I was joking. It’s the same story with housing vouchers. And even if you find a landlord that takes Section 8 or vouchers, the properties are often in dangerous areas and often in a state of disrepair.

And then there’s SNAP. It’s supposed to be “supplemental,” but I don’t know anyone who has SNAP who actually has money to get food besides what they get on their SNAP card every month. It’s not enough, especially to feed growing kids who need more than peanut butter, milk, and ramen noodles to grow properly.

Medicaid is pretty limited, too. Only a few doctors take it, and the wait times for appointments are typically long. On top of that, there are medical “professionals” who treat people with Medicaid differently than people with private insurance. It sucks. I used to be one of those people, and I regret it. It wasn’t right for me to look down on people. It sucks that it took me being on the receiving end of that disdain for me to discover how wrong, unfair, and painful it is. I’m actually terrified to go to the doctor or hospital for any reason, but there’s more to it than fear of being judged by people who are supposed to be helping me become as healthy as I can be. I’m back on Medicaid because the expansion finally passed, so that’s at least one way the welfare gap got a bit smaller, but it is still a gap.

Dental care for adults on Medicaid is a joke, too. All it covers is routine cleanings and exams. For any sort of dental work beyond that, you’re on your own. I’ve had to have damaged teeth removed because I couldn’t afford to have them fixed. Private insurance isn’t any better, and both my husband and I have teeth that are literally rotting in our mouths because we can’t afford to have them fixed.

I also owe SSA for “overpayments” to CB due to me misunderstanding their rules when I got married and got a job. I thought that I was only supposed to inform them if CB got married and/or got a job, because the money was for CB, and I was managing it because I was an adult. I’ve had to renegotiate their repayment because of inflation, but it was an unintentional mistake on my part. I haven’t tried to fight it, though.

As for me, I’m legally blind and disabled myself. I tried to get regular SSI, but even though I had paid into the system all of my working life, I didn’t have enough “work credits” since I lost my eyesight to qualify for it. As for SSDI, my husband grosses too much before taxes for CB to get SSDI, much less me.

So I’ve had to try my best to sell my art and my writing, and when that fails, I’ve had to ask my friends and family for help just to keep my kids fed and in pullups. I want to EARN money to so that I can feed my kids fresh fruit and vegetables and be able to donate to the food pantry that helps people in the welfare gap and below instead of having to rely on them to supplement our meagre food budget.

Once upon a time, a working adult could earn enough at the minimum wage to support a family of four. Their spouse could stay home and tend to household duties and children, knowing there was enough money to pay the bills, feed everyone well, cover hobbies, take a vacation every year, and donate to charities and/or individuals who needed help.

Somewhere in the 80s, the people in power in the US decided that earning wealth was a zero-sum game, and that the rising tide shouldn’t raise all boats. Those in power decided that it wasn’t fair that there was a safety net capable of lifting people out of poverty, so they set about demonizing the poor, especially single mothers and people working menial jobs like cashiers and food service workers. It was ugly, and I was raised to believe in it. I hate the fact that I ever embraced that ideology. I hate that I thought trickle-down economics worked.

I was wrong. It is not the wealthy who create jobs or hold the world on their shoulders. The job creators are those who spend the money they earn or are given rather than hoarding it. The people who hold the world on their shoulders are the ones who do the work that the wealthy deem “menial” or “below” them. It’s amazing how much the world stopped when food service workers, stockers, cashiers, janitors, housekeepers, daycare workers, teachers, aides, healthcare workers, and truck drivers caught COVID-19. Some were able to return, but many became disabled, and many died.

We need to get back to letting the tide raise all boats instead of just letting the rich add to their fleets of yachts. The poor deserve to be able to make it out of poverty, and this country has the means and ability to build the nets, ladders, and bridges to make it happen.

This isn’t a zero-sum game. Everyone can prosper, if they are given the tools to focus on thriving instead of merely surviving.

We can do it, if we choose to do it.

We can make it fair.

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