I want to start by saying that this is not a politically-oriented blog, nor is it about the news or current events. And, I am not an economist, far from it, I’m one of those sorry Americans who doesn’t really know alot about how our government works. (I’d be one of those people getting polled on Fox News, saying “uhhhhh, I don’t know!”)
But something struck me the other day when I was reading the news online. Many people, when faced with losing their home, choose to pay off credit cards instead. I am sure they have reasons that make sense to them at the time, but I don’t understand how a person will be able to stand underneath their Visa card when it’s raining and expect to stay dry. Which brings me to my point: how on earth did we get to this, in our society, where people have literally nothing? I mean, people have huge houses full of stuff, yet have nothing. Maybe I’m getting to the ripe old age now where I am saying “When I was a kid…” but when I was a kid, people didn’t have these issues. If people had steady work, and weren’t poor to begin with, they had money in savings, I’m sure (because they are all retired now!). We have so many huge, easily half million dollar houses in our area and we can’t figure out where these people are working. Now, with the news of all the foreclosures, I am understanding why. People have bitten off more than they could chew, and the results are disastrous.
What has happened to us as a society that we have to have more, more, more? People buy over the top appliances, new furniture on a whim, redecorate their homes often to reflect changes in design for the year. When I was growing up, my dad was a professor. It was one of the better paying jobs in the area, yet we lived modestly. We didn’t take expensive vacations, we had the same furniture forever, we didn’t replace appliances with the “latest and best” because the ones we had still worked. It was the same with my friends – I did have some friends who were really in hard times, but the ones who weren’t, they didn’t do these things either. When my parents got divorced, it was hard on my mom financially, and she was very good at being frugal. But before that, we just didn’t toss money away like people seem to do now. We lived within our means. There was money in savings. Mom and Dad owned their house and didn’t have huge amounts of debt.
A person can argue that prices of everything have gone up. But, my dad told me a while back that his starting salary when he started teaching was $8,000 per year. I know what professors start at now and it’s not that! (This was back in the late 60’s.) A person can argue that important things have gotten more costly – houses in general, insurance of all kinds, cars, fuel. And this is true. But, can we not take a little responsibility for the mess that we are in? I think banks are at fault too, supposedly being “experts” that people trust, luring folks into very tempting home equity loans and mortgages whose payments can increase on a whim. I got a phone call from our mortgage lender a few years ago, wanting us to sign up for a “checkbook”, where you could basically use your house as an ATM. Kid need braces? Write a “check”! Want a vacation? Write a “check”! Want to redecorate? Want new furniture? A car? A college education? Food? Write a “check”! I asked if it was a fixed rate. She said, no, it wasn’t. I told her I didn’t think it was a good deal. She became irate on the phone: What did I mean, it wasn’t a good deal?? It was GREAT! EASY!! CONVENIENT!!! What was bad about it? Fast forward to 2008 where middle class people are becoming homeless!! That’s how great it was!
So my answer to how people with regular jobs are affording houses that are $300,000. The answer is, they aren’t. It’s in the news. And it’s very scary. I have definitely noticed an increase in the prices of basic stuff like food. It is costing more to transport it because of the cost of fuel, so we get to absorb it. I am easily spending $40 more per week at the store. That includes things like diapers, cat litter, over the counter medication and the like, but it seemed to be a big, SUDDEN increase. Fortunately we live well within our means (modest, older home with small payment, no car payments, no credit card debt, old, hand me down furniture, etc.) and it’s not going to hurt us horribly. But people are going to feel the pinch, and are slowly going to stop shopping for nonessential things. Since shopping makes the American world go round, things WILL slow up. It doesn’t take someone with a degree in economics to see that our debt-ridden society can’t continue living off air! It’s bound to catch up with us at some point. And unfortunately, we are starting to see it now. Where we go from here, who knows. The tax “refund” everyone is going to get this year (where THAT is coming from, I don’t know, since the USA is broke too) is either going to pay off debt or into savings, according to polls. Not out into “shopping” like they are hoping. (I’m wondering who is going to pay for this “refund” later on? Us?)
Then there are other concerns. Why people who work their asses off aren’t getting health insurance? Why people with college educations cannot find work and cannot make ends meet? Why people are not being paid what they are worth? Why people cannot afford a decent life even if they are working their butts off? I know plenty of folks who do not have money in savings and have debt because their needs still exceed their income! I know people who work their tail ends off and are trying to support families and struggle so much, and I think, it shouldn’t be this way. I think if you work hard, you shouldn’t need to worry about being in the hole for something as simple as, say, an appendectomy.
I can hear the words of generations gone by echoing in my head, “We are going to hell in a handbasket. What is WRONG with people today?” Now I am that generation. Funny how things change.