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October 02, 2005

I Don't Wanna Go Down to the Basement ...

By Pepper of the Daily Pepper

I don't want to live in my parents' basement.

It's a nice basement, and it's where they keep the liquor and the stereo. But I still have no plans to live there. And my parents, as cool as they are, certainly don't want me down there.

Due to the dip in consumer confidence, an economic outlook growing bleaker by the day, rising health-care costs, and a government completely unwilling to roll back tax cuts, I have a funny feeling that the world is conspiring to put me in the basement. Most conservatives probably fantasize about all children winding up in their parents' basements maxing out their credit cards. Charge it, baby!

Why? A few notes from an article I read in the San Francisco Chronicle:

To get by, people work more than one job or amass credit card debt, couples work day and night shifts to avoid having to pay for child care, and adult children move back in with their parents, according to interviews with policy experts and workers.

In the Bay Area ... a single adult needs to make $27,901 a year or $13.41 an hour to cover those expenses. A single parent with two children needs $62,969 a year or $30.27 an hour. And a single wage earner in a family where the other parent stays home -- and provides child care -- would have to make $55,740 or $26.80 an hour.

I'm actually okay. I have a job, no kids, and no car. Even savings, which makes me one of the few people I know who can say that. But I realize that I am one bad business cycle or one accident or one illness away from trouble. In fact, I got to thinking about it after Shakespeare's Sister's rough week. (Have you sent her some love yet? You should.)

I can hear someone say, "I have an easy solution for you. Why don't you move out of the Bay Area?" Maybe some people don't want to leave their families. Maybe some people realize that in other parts of the nation they can't find jobs that suit their skills.

Plus, no matter where you are, people will still think it's somehow "your fault" that you're having money trouble. It may be true in some cases, but certainly not all of them. Yet this myth has become convenient for the new-model Republicans currently running the nation.

Lance Mannion was talking about Rich Lowry's knee-jerk reaction to Katrina victims, and Lance addresses the overall perception of poverty in the United States:

The poor are poor because of their own bad character, goes the chorus, of course, but the verse is like this: Liberal government programs encourage, foster, and make virtues out of the vices that keep the poor poor. You know, because not letting their children starve, not leaving them to attend rotten schools, not letting the old and young die of treatable diseases, not forcing them to live in squalid housing, all that just makes them lazy and dependent and (shhhh) shiftless.

The point is that even if you are an angel, you still might end up broke. Our conservative elected officials preach that they don't want anyone dependent on the government. Heaven forbid we be "shiftless."

However, their policies force those who must work for a living - like myself - to be dependent on someone, whether it be the company they work for or their parents. I understand that business is what makes the world go round, but there is no independence without economic independence. If the average American doesn't have the resources to stand on their own two feet, they are beholden to the whims of their employers. They have no real rights. They can't say anything for fear of losing their jobs. And that's where the desperation kicks in.

Conservatives like Rich Lowry gripe about people robbing and stealing and generally not being able to control themselves. Well, they've seen what it gets you to be good - not much more security than being bad. You get the basement if you're lucky.

October 2, 2005 in Economy | Permalink

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Comments

Pepper,

Would you feel remarkably better if the government fixed it so you didn't have to do a damn thing to have a place to live, put 3 squares on table, and gave you all the healthcare you desire? Is there anything you'd be willing to give up to attain that?

Before the government steps in to save you from the basement is there anything that you could do to make a difference? Perhaps you could work 2 or 3 jobs at the same time, perhaps work a fulltime job and go to school fulltime to get additional education, perhaps find a roommate or 2 or 3 that you could split rent with?

I know these aren't really exciting options and they aren't easy but they are very, very doable. Certainly more doable and reasonable than expecting everyone else to chip into a special Pepper Fund to make your life as ideal as you'd like it.

m

Posted by: m | Oct 2, 2005 7:38:56 PM

Yes, it's expensive to live in the Bay Area. Moving somewhere else may provide you with lower rents, but the jobs are fewer and the salaries are way lower.

And in the Bay Area, you don't have to travel too far to get to a good bookstore like Book Passage in Corte Madera, which just hosted a reading by Barbara Ehrenreich from her new book, "Bait and Switch". The key thing is that employers now view employees as expenses. And expenses must be cut.

So yeah, I'm bleeding. But I figure it's better to do it near great gobs of wealthy people (my neighbors), because the more you have, the more you have to take care of. So I'm helping them take care of their stuff (their houses, their pets, their gardens, their homeowners' association newsletters) and they give me money and/or goods.

I have nightmares about the day when law enforcement can stop anyone for random credit checks, because I swear they'll have my downwardly mobile self on a bus to Susanville or Ukiah before sundown.

Look, I suspect I am nearer the age of the people whose basement you are trying to avoid, so don't go by me. But definitely give up thinking (which I think you already have done) that to be successful, you must have your own house, a nice car, a yearly vacation, highlights every six weeks.... Think more along the lines of sharing stuff with your friends. Seriously. Don't throw out some shampoo or some sweaters that just didn't work right. Pass 'em on. I got new running shoes recently from a friend who'd bought some that hurt her feet. La la la, we're the same size. I traded some lovely sweaters that no longer fit, and now I have new shoes.

Be sure you go to the dentist every six months, whether or not you have dental insurance. Get the recommended yearly medical exams. Keep working on the emergency stash of money. Do this stuff while you're employed. If you hit some bumps along the way, you're so much more likely to come through okay if you're strong and healthy. I'm serious. If you're out of work for six months, that molar you should have had crowned might break instead, and then you've got an instant $2,000+ expense.

Okay. I am shutting up now. I kind of want to go steal something and sell it and give ShakesSis the money.

Posted by: larkspur | Oct 2, 2005 7:44:03 PM

To m: What is wrong with you? I didn't read anything about Pepper wanting a free ride. Jeebus. Trying to make people feel ashamed for wanting a fair deal is sleazy and creepy. There are people at the top who are growing wealthier by the moment, and a hell of a lot of people in the middle and at the bottom who are being bled dry, and it doesn't have to be like that. Fuck. Separating health care from employment would be a good start. And it's not expecting something for nothing to want that, and your scolding isn't going to change that. Shame on you.

Posted by: larkspur | Oct 2, 2005 7:48:29 PM

Wait a second, a basement? As a transplant from Chicagoland, I have yet to encounter a basement in a house in the bay area. Maybe I've seen too many of these 50s-built cookie-cutter flat suburban homes around San Jose. But I digress...

I believe the shorter version of your argument here, and I don't take credit for this, is that conservatives tend to believe in bad choices and liberals tend to believe in bad luck. In reality we have a combination of the two, but ideology drives the current leadership, so we see bad luck punished as though it is indistinguishable from mistakes.

Unfortunately it's a bit too easy to hang some of the harshness of the bay area's economic climate on that same leadership. Those folks make a nasty fall a harder fall, true, and that should be remedied. Still...

I can hear someone say, "I have an easy solution for you. Why don't you move out of the Bay Area?"

Or perhaps "Maybe you should move to less expensive areas within the rather sizeable bay area, if this is prudent financially." It kind of sucks, and you don't want to move away from the area of your choice, but that sort of compromise keeps your friends, family and the local job market accessible.

However, their policies force those who must work for a living - like myself - to be dependent on someone, whether it be the company they work for or their parents. I understand that business is what makes the world go round, but there is no independence without economic independence. If the average American doesn't have the resources to stand on their own two feet, they are beholden to the whims of their employers. They have no real rights. They can't say anything for fear of losing their jobs. And that's where the desperation kicks in.

From what I can tell, the notion that "there is no independence without economic independence" is quite true, and an integral motivating factor in some chunk of the workforce. For those of us who didn't cash in on the dotcom boom and who didn't win the options lottery, the notion of economic independence is either temporary at best, or on a years-decades scale. I don't think this is necessarily some flaw politicians have imparted upon us, but part of the expected life of productive Americans. The more recent twists, naturally, distort this picture: the rise of households in which both parents must work, volatility of employment (and the other risks shifted toward workers), and so forth. Still, correct all of those, and some of your fears would still be present -- and without a (near-term) political boogeyman to blame.

I'm sure I've said more than enough, but I figured it was worthwhile to nitpick a bit. It sucks that so many people are pushed into the basement situation (or worse, for it's not an option to so many). As the economy has done well during the past couple years, that benefit was basically not shared with the labor force. I'm really not looking forward to what happens when the economy turns (turned?) south and those people see even worse fortunes.

Posted by: lb | Oct 3, 2005 6:24:03 AM

Larkspur, thank you. I've done everything you recommend. The prevention, the saving, the working several jobs (as in leaving the full-time gig so I can go home and work into the evening), the whole bit. I love the idea of taking care of rich people's stuff. In my line, I get to tutor their kids.

Lb, I'm not native to the Bay Area. My parents live in a state with basements. But thank you for pointing that out! I've never seen a basement here either! I also lived in cheaper areas for five years before moving to San Francisco for my job.

As for you, "m," I've done everything you suggest. Done it all. I don't expect the government to do everything for me. You are just another person who assumes that those in financial trouble "did something" to get that way.

I'm actually not in financial trouble. (You ignored that I said I was okay.) But society as a whole is set up so that the only place to turn if there's trouble - illness, what have you - is a credit card. Great for the credit card companies, bad for you. M, you seem to think that financial trouble won't happen to you. You seem to think you are Teflon-coated and won't encounter bad luck. Fine. You just keep on doing that.

Posted by: Pepper | Oct 3, 2005 11:13:10 AM

"Pepper",

Actually, sorry to disappoint, I don't assume that people who get in financial trouble (or get sick, or lose family members, or lose their job, etc.) did something to deserve their misfortune. My focus is not on what happened to you but how you respond and react to it. If we start with the underlying tenant that "life is not fair" we get a head start on the rest of the folks.

What is a primary difference in our perspectives is the question of at exactly what point should the government be called upon to offer some form of assistance. For you, that point appears to be as soon as someone is forced to make a choice between finding housing on their own or living with their parents. Similarly it would seem that people needing to work more than one job, couples staggering their work schedules to avoid paying for child care, and needing to make difficult decisions like moving away from friends and family to find suitable job and living opportunities all would also fall into your definition of situations requiring government intervention.

The problem is that they are not nor should they be. I think it is great that you are doing well but the idea that should some small “calamity” come your way and, poof, instantly government tax dollars are on their way is not a reasonable expectation. Worse than that, your line of reasoning demeans those people who really need government assistance because they would die without it.

m

Posted by: m | Oct 3, 2005 10:02:40 PM

Other thoughts from on this line of conversation….

"I kind of want to go steal something and sell it and give ShakesSis the money." What the fuck is this? I feel bad about someone else’s situation and I get the urge to go steal something? Don’t think so.

"Trying to make people feel ashamed for wanting a fair deal is sleazy and creepy." Expecting the rest of the country to step up and support people that are perfectly capable of supporting themselves is sleazy and creepy. I hope they do feel ashamed.

m

Posted by: m | Oct 3, 2005 11:15:29 PM

m:

Wanting to steal something and sell it and give ShakesSis the money is hyperbole. I don't steal stuff. But sadly, I do not have money to send her. If I did, I would, because over the years, friends have helped me out (and I have helped them, too, in my turn) and we're all in this together, and that's how we get through. I expressed that wish in an exaggerated, hyperbolic manner in an attempt to conclude my post in a less preachy way.

You seem to be operating on the assumption that the role of big business and government is somehow immutable, like the sun. The sun is hot sometimes, and hidden by clouds sometimes, and it burns my skin...and I do not expect government to fix the sun for me. My "relationship" with the sun is totally one-sided. It's there; I adjust.

Government and corporations are entities we create. We're in a huge time of transition, and ironically, your "suck it up and deal" point of view is actually a passive stance we can't afford to take. When adversity comes our way, yes yes yes we have to adjust, work harder, figure out new ways of doing things...but that includes our actions as the governed, too. I think if we don't object to, say, the Pell grant cutbacks vis a vis stuff like the significant tax write-offs available for purchasing gigundous Hummvees, then we're not doing our job as a populace.

Also, Pepper's post wasn't a position statement, or a list of demands. And I'm still not sure why you immediately jump to the conclusion that for her (or me) to express concern about society or our economic future means that we want cradle-to-grave nanny-state socialism.

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