Three years ago, David and I were living in Nashville. I was working for the year as a chaplain in Baptist Hospital while David was both finishing his dissertation and teaching at a small college. I got health benefits as a part of my employment and David was still on student insurance, but my job was a limited, one-year term, and David’s school was not in a financial position to offer its employees health insurance.
So we were content, imagining that we would figure out the next step when we crossed that bridge. We weren’t planning on having kids for another several years, and so we expected that if we encountered lean times, we could just button down the hatches and make due. (You see where this is going, right?)
Well, one early morning in May, I woke up, not to enjoy my first cup of coffee, but to pee on a stick. I had to set my resolve that if two lines appeared, the first words out of my mouth would NOT be “Oh shit.”
The second line did, in fact, appear, and I can distinctly remember the nauseating rush of emotions that flooded my entire person: excitement, joy, and overwhelming fear. I decided to stay home from work that day, and I spent most of the day on Google trying to figure out just how we were going to manage. The baby would be due around Christmas/New Year’s. My job (and insurance) would come to an end at the end of August. COBRA benefits would cost nearly $500 a month, and as a pregnant lady, I would simply not qualify for any individual plan. David’s student insurance would end in May because he was scheduled to graduate and ditto on the COBRA.
That evening, David got a call from an old friend letting him know that a faculty position would be opening up in his department at Christian Brother’s University, and he thought that David should apply. Long story made short, David got the job, we moved to Memphis and signed up for the employee health plan halfway through my pregnancy. We managed to transition pretty seamlessly into life in Memphis. We found our midwives, and Maggie was born at home in January.
Things worked out for us, but I am painfully aware of just how differently it could have gone. Between the two of us, David and I had one PhD (David’s), three Master’s degrees (David has two, I have one), and two Bachelor’s degrees. We were both willing to work, and anxious to work. But we were still thisclose to a real financial quick sand. And, honestly, in some ways we are still there. We are comfortable, but a medical crisis would send us over the edge. If I couldn’t get enough work to meet That Number that we need one month, things would get scary, and fast. I’ve thought about the possibility of getting a “real job” instead of working from home, but I quickly realized that we couldn’t afford it, with two kids needing full-time child care.
This is why I’m so bothered by Mitt Romney’s recent statement that he’s “not concerned” with the “very poor.” His reasoning for this statement is that the very poor have safety nets (although it’s my understanding that these “safety nets” are the entitlement programs that he wants to defund and get rid of). He’s concerned with the 90 to 95 percent of Americans who are struggling. What he doesn’t seem to understand is that NO ONE wants to depend on the safety nets, and a great deal of Americans are a heartbeat away from the status of “very poor.” We have come to the point where we are all making major life decisions based on where/when we will have access to health insurance.
We have a system in which the “very poor” are trapped, because at the first moment that they break out of that particular classification, the safety nets quickly disappear. People who are on Social Security Disability Insurance fear losing that status, because once they are no longer on SSDI, they must find a 40-hour/week job with benefits just to get medication that they need. Pregnant women fear being fired, and when the kids do come, many of us cannot afford to work and put our kids in day care, but we also can’t afford to not work.
Mitt Romney claims that he will repair the safety nets if they need to be repaired. But he is fundamentally missing the point. The system needs to change. The quick sand of poverty needs to be stopped with revolution in education, health care, and child care across the board. We’re not talking nets, here. We’re talking foundations.
Many people have said it many different ways, but Mahatma Ghandi is credited with phrasing it thus: “A nation’s greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members.” Mitt Romney should be concerned with the very poor, because in the end, that is how we will all be measured.