Friday, June 8, 2012

Barack Obama and Me: A Tale of Two Americas

"It was the best of times. It was the worst of times." When Charles Dickens wrote those words to begin A Tale of Two Cities, he might have been describing the United States of America in the first two decades of the new millennium. Barack Obama, a black American risen from humble conditions, is President of the United States when just 50 years earlier he would not have even  been allowed to eat at the same lunch counter as many of the whites whose children would subsequently vote for him.

Wow. That is one big WOW!

But . . .

50 years ago it would have been unthinkable that 6 Americans (heirs to the WalMart family fortune) would control as much wealth between them as the bottom 30 million Americans combined. 50 years ago it would have been unthinkable that 1% of the population would control 40% of the wealth of this country and that 10% would control 80% of the wealth. 50 years ago it would have unthinkable that 50 million Americans would be living in poverty.

Wait. Cancel that last statement. Strike a line through it. For the fact is that, 50 years ago, before the advent of LBJ's Great Society programs, 50 million Americans probably did live in poverty. And today, in 2012, 50 million Americans are living in poverty. So some things have not changed much.

I have been unemployed now for over 18 months. My unemployment compensation had been keeping me afloat. I was in the final 20-week extension, the so-called FED-ED extension, when my unemployment compensation was abruptly terminated as of May 12, because California no longer qualifies for the FED-ED monies. The termination was abrupt with very little advance warning and now I am having to use up my meager savings to stay afloat while desperately casting about for other ways to secure an income. Once those savings run out, I will have no choice but to start tapping my retirement accounts and watching any hopes I might have had for a reasonably comfortable retirement vanish into the Dickensian future that awaits.

And that's not even to mention healthcare. I have no health insurance. Two dental procedures for my wife and me were put on an installment plan with no interest, but that/s $75/month of cash going out while none is coming in. My wife and I are walking around with loaded guns to our heads. Should catastrophic illness strike either of us, we will face lives of penury and ruin.

I can't help feeling that my government has abandoned me, that I am like those hapless survivors of Katrina who remained behind, waiting for aid that never seems to come. Over 50 now, I have come face to face with age discrimination that, while technically illegal, is openly practiced with wild abandon by employers who want only people willing to work for peanuts or in unpaid internships. I have sent out over 2,000 resumes in the past 18 months, had numerous interviews, none of which resulted in an offer. And California's unemployment rate is still over 10%, maybe not high enough to keep people like me receiving unemployment compensation, but high enough to ensure that employers need not comply with the law nor hire anyone not young and beautiful.

So I am happy for Barack Obama. I am happy that he, a black man from modest origins, has become President. I am happy for his wife and daughters too, happy they will never have to worry about where their next meal is coming from, happy that, should they get sick, they will not have to go without medical care due to a lack of resources or insurance. I am happy their father will never have to worry about losing his home to foreclosure or his car to repossession.

I am happy for Barack Obama.

But I live in a different America than the one he inhabits. In my America, people stay with jobs they hate or where they are mistreated, because they are one paycheck away from homelessness. In my America, people are losing their homes, their cars, their health, their livelihoods and their self respect. Every day. No hope in sight.

Barack Obama does not live in my America. I am happy for President Obama but he does not even know or care that I exist.

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