‘We Send You Our Thoughts and Prayers’

by on April 6, 2020 · 2 comments

in Economy, Ocean Beach

By Joni Halpern

Today there is a thin crust of magnanimity covering the stone-cold heart of the American taxpayer.  In this moment of chilling necessity and shared danger, we are willing to allow our government to deliver monetary help to individuals and business owners who have been shut out of their livelihoods.

Maybe some of us will even send money to food pantries, sew masks for hospital workers, or share essentials among neighbors and extended families. Maybe we will shout our thanks from our balconies to first responders and medical personnel.  We surely will pray for the nation’s rescue from the deathly grip of this pandemic, and also that enough ventilators are on hand if we are stricken.

But in general, we are still the hard-hearted American taxpayers who would rather send thoughts and prayers instead of real money-driven remedies to people in need, even if those people are in our own backyard.

For the past fifty years, we have mumbled and blathered and shouted the creed that guides our policy makers: “Personal responsibility!” “No more dependency!” “America first!” “Me first!”

We have developed a new preamble to our national endeavors:  “I, the single most important person, in order to form a more perfect union, exclude those who are not like me, whom I do not know, whom I do not understand, or whose beliefs or origins differ from mine…”

This exercise in exclusion has resulted in each of us Americans belonging to a very small union in this nation of 330 million people.

The other day I was talking on the phone with Virginia, a San Diegan who has lived for several years in a subsidized apartment.  She spent her entire working life cooking, cleaning and caring for children in other people’s households. She can tell you the names of every child she ever cared for.  She has pictures of some of them as they have grown. Some now have children of their own.

Virginia is disabled now, living on Supplemental Security Income (SSI), a small needs-based federal benefit around $900 a month.  As this pandemic unfolded, she was not able to stock up on basic items the way more amply funded San Diegans were. Food, toiletries, and paper goods are in even shorter supply in her tiny apartment than they were before.

She has no car, no money for transportation, no family to call upon. She is one of those persons who came to this country from Mexico decades ago, gained citizenship, and poured the entirety of her working energy into caring for better-off Americans at a wage that left her in poverty all her life.

“She should have gone to school.”  “She should have demanded a better wage.”  “She should have tried to get a better job.”  “She needs to take personal responsibility for the choices she made in life.”  “Other people have become successful after starting out at the bottom. She probably made bad choices.”  “Maybe she should have stayed in Mexico.”

What about Leo?  He’s only 24. He was born in San Diego, graduated from a local high school, got a job as a custodian in a large company, worked hard and was commended by his employer for always doing an exemplary job.  But when his roommate moved out of his apartment, he had to give up his place and could not find another place to live at a rent he could afford.

After weeks of sofa-surfing, he became homeless. Well, maybe not homeless.  He rented the back seat of a fellow’s car and slept there at night, shivering in the cold. He started showing up at work late, because he had trouble finding places to clean up, so they cut his hours. Then he couldn’t afford a bus pass.

“He should have done better in school.”  “He should’ve gone to vocational school or even college.”  “If I were in his shoes, I’d move heaven and earth to get to work on time.”  “He made bad choices. He should have saved money in case his roommate moved out.”

Oh, we are so good at passing judgment on others, we American taxpayers.  We reserve the last bitter drops of our compassion for the truly needy, but they are hard to find.  Let’s see. They would be the few, rarely discovered persons whom we could judge to have no fault in their own suffering.  They would have to be the victims of forces so completely beyond their control that nothing could have altered the outcome.

Of course, we can’t count among those forces the vagaries of a drastically changed global economy. We can’t count the immense and irretrievable loss of unionized factory jobs.  We can’t count the vast changes in technology that are placing entire generations of young persons at constant risk of unemployment and underemployment. We can’t count the national ambition to stoke a military budget with enough fuel to engage the entire world.  We can’t count the government’s largesse toward the rich. No. We can’t count those or any other forces that have sculpted our economic lives in America.

We who are clinging to our own assets have to draw lines.  After all, who is going to look after us? However, if the day ever comes that now-affluent or middle-class Americans fall to the bottom of the economic ladder, there will be no safety net.  We will have shredded it into a thousand useless pieces before our own demise occurs.

Perhaps the very rich, whom we have nurtured so lovingly with our national treasury, will reach down to help us.  Perhaps they will see that we are valuable, that our effort, ingenuity, and work ethic have kept this economy running so we could pay taxes to strengthen their legacy.

We probably shouldn’t count on that though.  The rich have the same creed as we do: Every person in America is responsible for himself or herself.  Every person is the sole architect of his or her own consequences.

Perhaps the rich occasionally might send us surplus food that has been left in their massive pantries too long.  Maybe garbanzo beans or cocktail olives or those little specialty foods from the huge gift baskets their neighbors gave them at Christmas.  The rich are not heartless, after all. But we can’t expect them to hand out their hard-earned taxpayer dollars to any but the truly needy.

Yes, that’s what the rich will tell us if we fall down to the bottom of the economic barrel.  They will tell us the same thing we tell people who presently suffer from poverty in our fair city.  “Take personal responsibility for yourself. We worked hard for what we have. If you don’t have it, it’s because you made bad choices.  We deserve tax breaks, because we are producers. We can’t afford to waste taxpayer money on housing, health care, food, education, or child care for people who should be taking care of their own needs.”

But we do send you our thoughts and prayers.

 

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Avatar thequeenisalizard April 7, 2020 at 9:34 am

Since Trump’s National Day of Prayer on March 16th, the virus has increased more than 1000%.

Reply

Avatar Dave April 7, 2020 at 1:47 pm

Sadly accurate. Thanks for sharing these stories, if only that the ones who need to hear them most ever would…

Reply

Leave a Comment

Older Article:

Newer Article: