Reader Rant: America is the richest country in the world but Americans can’t afford to live here.

by on November 30, 2009 · 6 comments

in Civil Rights, Economy, Health, Labor, San Diego, War and Peace


by Molly Macquire

America IS – still – the richest country in the world. Yet Americans cannot afford to live here.  Let me share two brief stories with you of friends I have run into recently.  Both friends are leaving America because they can’t do it any longer – they cannot afford to live here.

My first friend – he makes surfboards here in Ocean Beach. He and his family are leaving within a month to go live in a South American country.  There he can make surfboards and live on a fraction of what it takes for him and his fam to live here.  And it’s all about health care costs.

My friend recently had an incident while surfing. A large wave simply just whacked him on the side of his head. He tried to shake it off, but he was in trouble.  Not from drowning, but he had lost his memory temporarily. He went up to the lifeguards and told them he knew his name and he knew where he was, but that was about it.

Medics were called, and my friend took a ride in the ambulance with bells and whistles and the whole kit and caboodle.  He ended up in the ER and was treated somehow.  He claims they really didn’t do much for him. He was sent home with a diagnosis of temporary amnesia caused by the wave whack – perhaps a slight concussion.

Then he got the bill:  $21,000.

Now I haven’t seen the bill and maybe my friend is exaggerating. He is a contractor and hence does not have medical insurance from any employer. Bottom line – he didn’t have any medical insurance and he can’t afford to pay this outrageous amount for a brief hospital ride and stay.  But he and his family are packing up. Down in South America, he can be seen by a doctor and pay $50, he says.  “Can you believe,” he asked me incredulously, “that people here are opposed to health care reform?”  We both shook our heads.

I was very shaken by this story. He’s been in OB for 30 years. I probably won’t see him again.

My second friend also does not have health insurance.  But that’s not why he is traveling to go work in Saudi Arabia. It’s his mortgage and other costs of living that he and his wife can’t afford.  He is willing to risk everything and make $3000 a month plus room and board, and of course travel expenses, over there.

This friend used to work in a shop – and he worked there for 30 years – give or take a couple. Yet he has no pension from the place, he can’t afford medical or dental help right now. So he’s flying out of here within the next couple of weeks for the Middle East.  I begged him to watch the movie “The Kingdom” so he would have some idea of how Americans and Europeans live over there – in guarded walled communities separated out from the natives and the cities.  His wife is freaking out – she was strong at first.  Sure, he would send her money for the mortgage and their other bills, credit cards, etc.  He even filed for bankruptcy not too long ago.  But that wasn’t enough. He will be going to the Kingdom for a year to try it out.  To make money so he can live in America.

I’m very saddened that he feels this desperate.

Both my friends are leaving America to go live in Third World countries so they can live in a First World one. There is something terribly wrong with this picture.

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar yippiereborn November 30, 2009 at 9:28 pm

the picture you’re painting is certainly distressing. it is a prime example of when people start thinking desperately – understandably – and believe they would be better off “somewhere else” than here. But lets not forget san diego is very expensive… fact, one of the five or six most expensive places in the country to live. now there are plenty of things wrong with that, especially the wage inequality here that is arguably the WORST in the country. but to say that someone HAS to move to south america in order to get by is a stretch….did you know that a decent 1br apartment in a nice neighborhood in portland, oregon – one of our greenest, most progressive, and cleanest big cities – runs about HALF of what it does in San Diego? Why cant someone make surfboards there? It rains about 90 percent of the time, but I know for a fact there is a portland based company that makes swim trunks and sunglasses and designs leather goods that dont jive with constant rain…..even just down the road in Imperial beach, im sure there is plenty of near-the-beach commercial space just BEGGING to be rented out.

I have a lot of cousins that live in Venezuela, Columbia, and Ecuador. in those countries, It is mainly understood that only the healthiest people live into their 70’s, and the gap between rich and poor is MUCH greater than even San Diego. Violent crime is about twenty times higher there than here (san diego is one of the safest big cities in the WORLD) clean drinking water is hard to come by, more than half the population is malnourished, and multinational conglomerates pretty much run the entire economies (see: John Perkins).

Recession, depression, etc…..people are just not willing to adhere to the times and take a step down the ladder. So instead of a medical bankruptcy, your friend is moving to south america – because of health care. instead of staying here and trying to change what ails the system, they head to another country where things are MUCH more inequal. I just hope it doesnt become a trend.


avatar Molly November 30, 2009 at 10:05 pm

yippie…, make surfboards in Portland, Oregon??? I think that my first friend has direct experience that the costs of living in SA are way cheaper than here, and that gringos do have advantages down there. $10,000 can go a long way down there. Up here it won’t cover half one medical bill.


avatar Shawn Conrad December 1, 2009 at 12:45 pm


My friend the barrel maker is in the same situation, but has considered post secondary schooling and a career. He is now able to afford rent, illness, and have his teeth cleaned.

While I overly admire folks that work for themselves, this is not the ideal time to be in that situation. May your friend find good fortune wherever he may go.


avatar annagrace December 1, 2009 at 12:04 am

It’s pretty tough to try changing the system in the midst of a medical bankruptcy or a home foreclosure. Molly has written about a reverse migration that I too am aware of. The small businesswoman with too few customers now- she talked about returning to Poland and her family after a lifetime here. People return to family when all else fails- if they have family.

Many people are now “trapped in paradise.” I met a woman who worked all of her life, is retired and living on a pension that can’t cover rent, medicine and food . She is living in her car with her dog. I know people, most of them in their 20’s and 30’s who have lost their job in paradise, and are couch surfing. Friends who responsibly relied on their credit cards to get through emergencies with cars and health care have had their credit lines reduced and interest rates raised simply because the card companies can do these things. Do you know the going price for a root canal and crown?

We are watching a culture of cruelty being played out in this rich country of ours.


avatar yippiereborn December 1, 2009 at 9:40 am

I agree with all of those things. The only reason I used Portland as an example is because the cost of living there is significantly cheaper than San Diego….and as a city, it offers the same if not more in the way of cultural exploration, public services, economic scale, without the sunshine tax. my point is that simply moving to another country where the cost of living is significantly lower isn’t going to solve anything. Moving to a country where the inequality is greater and your almighty dollar goes farther doesn’t solve anything. But staying within a comfort zone to an extent, while downsizing lifestyle – that is a more appropriate course of action for someone suffering from economic recession.

The culture of cruelty Anna speaks of is a repeat of what happens when the economy tanks. But people forget this recession isn’t limited to the US; it is global. Poverty is WORSE most places than here. The quality of life here – even in a recession, even with credit card companies slashing credit lines, even with high medical costs – is better than most places. We are so used to our American manifest destiny style of living we forget that literally billions of people go hungry everyday, or that violent crime is a fact of life in countries as close as Mexico and as far away as Russia.

What I’m trying to say is lets not get ahead of ourselves here. This country is still one of the best places in the world to live and will always be. Personal freedoms, the power of being able to speak ones mind – that power is lost on Americans because it comes with no strings attached. In other countries, that is just not so. Why do you think so many folks leave their own countries to come live here?


avatar justmy2cents December 5, 2009 at 12:15 pm

Becoming a First World Refugee to gain a little peace of mind and freedom. Ironic but true.


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