We thought it was.
We were taught it was.
We are the "good guys," the sane ones in a world gone mad.
I thought that if I worked hard and lived honestly, I'd be set for life. But the longer I live in and — this is key — work in America, the more I have come to believe America is not for us.
America, this entity that we thought would tend us as a mother, has all the maternal instincts of a spider who eats her young. This country thrives on the predation of the many in service of the few.
Which means, statistically, odds are that America is not for you and me.
I recently reentered the workforce for the first time in six years, following several rounds of the beauty and trauma of pregnancy, birth, breastfeeding, and the toddler years. I'm still in the thick of it, although mom life has eased up somewhat, as my children are ages 1 and 3. I work at a rather posh fitness and wellness center, in the childcare center, which I really enjoy. This is fantastic for me, as I can bring my children to work and not have to worry about — or pay for — childcare of my own, which I could not afford: Here in Montana, childcare alone would consume 36 to 45 percent of my income, should I be paid a living wage
I am an intelligent, mature woman in her 30s who holds a master's degree in education and has over 10 years of experience in the fields of teaching and writing. I was, until recently, comfortably settled in the middle class, although now I suppose you could say my star has waned as I have amicably separated from my husband and am now a single mother.
Even with my almost excessive qualifications, I am paid minimum wage: $8.10 per hour.
I work part-time. I do not work part-time by choice. If this fitness center allowed me to work full-time for them, I would jump at the chance. Part-time, I make around $7,000 per year — and that's before taxes. I will have to find another job to even begin to hope to make ends meet. If I get a second job, my first job will demand that I prioritize them in terms of my availability, regardless of the fact that they do not pay me what I am worth (a fact that I was aware of before I took the job, to be sure, but still). If I am lucky enough to find two compatible part-time jobs, I might still have to pay for childcare. Taking into account my minimum wage pay, now 70 percent of my income would go toward childcare. And even if my current job were full-time, I would still only make about $16,000 annually. Not exactly a living wage.
With two part-time jobs, I am without health insurance. I will have to pay for my own. An average Obamacare plan costs $82 a month, after tax credits, or $984 a year. You can see the problem this presents me. Thankfully, I do qualify for Medicare, but I wonder what the risks of that are. Will I have to pay through the nose for my neediness in the future, as with the students who are shackled by nearly insurmountable college debt?
Clearly, I need to find a better-paying job. After all, I am qualified. The thing is, the job market where I live is terrible. I'd have to move to begin to hope to land a job that would pay me $50,000 a year — and a move as a single mom away from my children's very involved father as well as my entire support system sounds devastating.
When I worked in this same location pre-kids (and pre-Obamacare, for that matter), I kept running into the same obstacles — not enough jobs — and the jobs I did get were either forced part-time, or low paying, or both. Even with my very fine résumé, I have never worked a job in my field where I made more than $15,000 a year. I have never worked a job in my field where I needed more qualifications than a high school diploma.
I am worried about the future. I am worried about how I will provide for my children. Yes, their dad is awesome and will financially assist in supporting them, and me to a lesser degree, as I return to the workforce for the first time in six years and figure things out. But sooner or later I'm going to have to stand more or less on my own. And given how America is taking care of its own, I am not sure that I can
There are assistance programs. There should be more, rather than continuing to pour money into bloated defense expenditures and tax breaks for the rich and the corporate. But if I apply for these programs, I am told that I will be criticized for being a lazy, couch-dwelling, soap opera–watching, selfish freeloader. Even though I'm not. Even though a terribly small percentage of Americans on assistance are. I will be shamed, and probably by the same people who are against raising the minimum wage — the same people who, as a result, create the problem of 35.4 percent of Americans not able to make a livable income with the jobs they already have, or who cannot even get jobs to begin with.
America is not for me, even though I am highly educated and qualified for a variety of well-paying jobs. Even though I am a white woman raised in an upper-middle-class neighborhood, who attended "baby Ivy" schools, who works hard and wants to work hard, for myself and my children and to make this world a better place.
America is not for me.
America is not for my children.
America is not for single working mothers or their families.
America is not for the poor.
America is not for us.
What will it take for America to take care of everyday Americans? When will you, my neighbors and friends and countrymen, care about the $100 billion of unpaid child support in our country? About the fact that women make 21 percent less than men make for the same jobs? About gender discrimination and sexual assault in the workplace? About the fact that parents, single and otherwise, increasingly cannot afford the childcare that enables them to work, about the fact that in 24 states, childcare is more expensive than in-state college tuition?
America is not for us. Perhaps it once was, but no longer.
We demand better.