Middle-class squeeze

Empty swings on the playground

TEXT OF COMMENTARY

MARK AUSTIN THOMAS: We continue our midterm election series "The Real Agenda." Polls show that Americans care about pocketbook issues like wages and cost of living. As part of our series we've invited everyday citizens to give us their views. Today Susanna Perkins of Orlando Florida tells us her take on the plight of the middle class.


SUSANNA PERKINS: Steam poured out my ears recently as I listened to yet another economic "expert" pushing gadgets as affordable lifestyle improvements for people like me.

Let me tell you, I'd like to yank these so-called experts from their ivory towers and force them to live like the real people.

Let them try living on 10% less than they made 20 years ago, like I do. That's right, less. Not "inflation adjusted" but fewer actual count-them-out dollars.

Twenty years ago, I was a single mom with two children under 10. Back then, we lived in a comfortable, three-bedroom apartment with a pool and a playground.

My job as a telemarketer provided family health coverage that cost me under $100 a month. Today I'm married, with one child still at home. I'm the primary breadwinner. My husband's in graduate school.

Right now, my family lives in a house not much bigger than that apartment, but it costs twice as much.

My job in business quality control provides insurance, but right now my share of health coverage is $360 month — and that's just for me! My husband and daughter are uninsured.

Twenty years ago, I drove a new car, and gas was less than $1 a gallon. Today I drive used, and gas costs three times more.

Back then I sent my kids to an inexpensive church-affiliated private school, and someone else cleaned my apartment. Not today! Today a luxury is an occasional Starbucks coffee.

Oh sure, I have some electronics. Yes, I do have a computer with broadband Internet. But they don't compensate for the fact that my inflation-adjusted income is half of what it was 20 years ago.

Will a digital camera somehow make up for the fact that housing, medical coverage and groceries eat up four-fifths of my salary?

Answer this, Mr. Expert. Even if I had one, what good is an iPod to me if my uninsured husband lands in the hospital?

Susanna Perkins lives in Orlando, Florida.

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