The High Cost of Living in the U.S. – Election Season Thoughts

So, I did a little math.

The top fundraising numbers (not counting anyone but the top 5 presidential candidates, including Trump) for the 2020 election campaign comes to $1,116,023,900. Over one billion dollars!  And when I see this number my blood pressure begins to rise.  I feel like each political email I get is a person in a several hundred-dollar suit panhandling as they ask me to give “$2.70, or whatever you can to…” the political election cause.  Because suddenly I’m thinking that that billion dollars could be better spent on addressing hunger in the U.S., homelessness & housing, increasing mass transportation, subsidizing farmers to grow crops we as a society NEED, not crops that are just economically successful for them alone.  Or, and this one will spin your head,  instead of government spending, how about we put that money toward businesses that would allow them to pay a living wage, which would address a lot of social issues in and of itself?

Bottom line, it costs a lot to live these days.  Some basics:  If you took out a loan to go to college, student loans average about $25K that you’ll need to add into the budget.  That’s before you buy the house (average price $200,000), the car (average cost is $33,000; ooh, times 2 if you have a 2-car family, plus $9,000 a year is gas for each one and $1500 each for car insurance), and let not forget the 2 kids. It costs about $300,000 to raise a child to the age of 18.  If you have younger children, daycare costs alone are around $40,000/year.  Plus the yearly cost of utilities ($3,000), groceries ($13,000 ), or health insurance, which for a family policy is a whopping $21,000!  Well worth it, one might argue – an emergency appendectomy costs about $200,000.  No insurance, you’ll wipe out your home.   

On a larger scale, creating the world we want to live in has high costs associated with that as well.   The cost for a clean environment (that doesn’t just mean litter; it means pollution, emissions, access to drinkable water, etc.) is $115 billion. Updating infrastructure in the U.S. will cost $4.6 trillion. $12 billion will maintain and support national parks, which includes years (decades?) of deferred maintenance. Disaster cleanup for the U.S. Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, for which we are responsible: $132 billion.  And safety and security costs about $100 billion on policing and $80 billion on incarceration. 

The same amount being spent on policing ($100 billion) was spent on welfare for people and families who are not able to swim back to the surface of a life.  Circumstances like war, lost jobs,  economic instability, or illness can place people who are 1-3 paychecks from losing it all, in an angry sea of destitution and loss, drowning in conceptions of monetary value.  Human value plays almost no role in the larger issues of money spent.   

In the last few decades we’ve entered a riptide that has yet to let us swim to any kind of safety.  On one side we say we want a stronger economy with more growth, which leaves a lot of people behind, and that number is increasing.  On the other we seek to strengthen our society and our economy through the safety net that ensures all people are actively contributing to the betterment of our society.  Except our political actions aren’t lined up with our political wants.  While decrying health care, food assistance and basic housing for the 38 million people, 12 million of which were children, members of Congress, who receive a minimum of $174,000 just voted themselves a 3.1% federal pay raise (which actually is about $60,000 – about $29.00/hour) while also budgeting $700 billion for military spending.  They are saving themselves while searching for people to colonize, to kill,  to turn towards our will.  But I digress.  Let’s get back to salaries.  Did you know that wait staff are paid $2.13/hr and no benefits – so a dollar tip doesn’t really help?  Or that certified nursing assistants, the true front-line personnel in healthcare, make $28,500?  $30,00 for a janitor?  Teachers make about $56,000 – all foundations of a humane society, all below the 3.1% increase Congress gave themselves.

In fact, some of our wages of the most foundational employees fall within the definition of poverty: one person making $12,700, or a family of 4 making $26,200.   How are they supposed to pay back student loans and get the house and the car and 2.1 children, all the while hoping they never have to deal with something as mundane as an appendectomy.

Last year mental health costs reach $2.4 trillion dollars.  Given the numbers and statistics above, is it then surprising that in the U.S. nearly 20 million people experienced major depression? 50 million people attending suicide in 2019 and about 50,000 succeeded of which 90% of those had a diagnosable mental illness? That although suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S., is the 2nd leading cause for people between 15-34?  By the way, the first and second leading causes of death in the US are heavily correlated with stress:  Heart disease and cancer.  Through our choices, we have actively created this world where money rules and humanity drools.

The cost of living in the U.S. are extremely high, not just economically, but socially, spiritually and physically.  Our free-market system isn’t correcting itself because members of Congress are swayed by big business, with their multi-million dollar lobbyists that ensure we have nutritionally-absent food at our constant disposal, where we have to create ways to have manufacture drinking water because fracking and mining had disturbed that environment, where we have to wonder if our 5-year old’s appendectomy will send us to the poor house!  Oh, that’s right.  We don’t have poor houses; that was another time, another safety net. 

Yes, our so-called free-market economy is seriously flawed.  While the impoverished are panhandling from day to day trying to stay alive, the well-dressed millionaires and billionaires who seek to lead this country with what we hope will be fiscal responsibility and compassion are panhandling as well.  And people give the $2.70 or whatever they can, even on that $14/hour salary, that will be less than half of the hourly salary Congress just gave themselves.  And I am ashamed at what our country as chosen to do with its most vulnerable.

But really, Congress and presidential candidates should be ashamed  for asking the people who already pay so much to pay even more, on dreams that continue to leave far too many out on the fringe.

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