Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Rob Us While We're Sitting, Oblivious, In Front of a Screen

Look at this chart here. In 1973 the average new house was 1,660 square feet. By 2010, the average new house was 2,392 square feet.

Our house was built in 1956. It's a ranch in the suburbs of a mid-sized Midwestern city. It has sidewalks and schools and libraries within walking distance. It was a coveted place to own in 1956. Imagine the first family who bought this house. Imagine how excited and proud they were. Their daughters could share a bedroom, their sons could share the other bedroom, and the parents would have a room all to themselves! And, get this, an attached garage so Dad can step right inside the door into the dining room where his family and a hot meal await him. They were probably paying for it with his GI Bill loan.

Our house is 935 square feet. The first family who bought our house in 1956 was probably considered middle class. Definitely moving on up. I bet they had a TV. Maybe even a color TV.

I'm not at all saying I wish our society could cram inside Michael J. Fox's DeLorean and go back to the days of racial hatred, closeted gay people, bored housewives, fathers who missed their families because of their long hours at work, and children who were taught to fear their parents instead of learn from their example. I don't want to go back to the days when I most likely would have already had at least one electroshock treatment during my lifetime.

So are people today spoiled? Do children expect their own bedroom and cell phone and dance lessons and chicken nuggets at every meal? Does it matter if they do?

I've been thinking a lot about taxes lately. Partly because a month ago I quit my full time position at the Library and took a part time position in the same department. So we're losing almost half of my income. So we're broke. So I looked up if we qualify for reduced price meals at Katie's school, but we don't. Not by a lot. I was surprised. How do people who make less money than us survive? We have to hold our breath and hope the mortgage payment isn't processed before our paycheck is directly deposited every month. Are we just too frivolous? I really am going to make banana bread out of those black bananas and not throw them away, I promise.

No, seriously, I'm the kind of person who resets her "trip" odometer every time she fills up her gas tank so she can calculate how many miles per gallon she got that time. I coast down hills and drive at or under the speed limit. I don't slam on the accelerator whenever the light turns green. I am 40, so I guess it makes sense that I drive like a grandma. But I learned these tricks when I worked for Greenpeace one summer during my first, no second, attempt at college long ago.

Lately I've been getting 25-26 MPG in my mini SUV. Terrible compared to what it should be if our President would quit wanting everyone to like him and pass some kick ass energy policies that raise truck MPG to 40 and small cars to 70 MPG. But considering the manufacturer says my car should get between 18-22 MPG, I feel pretty good about my grandmotherly driving ways.

I think the reason Will and I struggle like so many middle and lower class families do today has less to do with our lack of frugality and more to do with the economy being all f-ed up. I can't leave the grocery store without spending $50. And that's on two items from Costco. And our unemployment rate is obscene. At the public library where I work, we have regular patrons who come in every day applying for jobs online. Some of them have been coming for years. Seriously. Some of them have given up hope and sit in the corner reading the newspaper so they don't have to sit in their sweltering hot unairconditioned homes. Or cars if they're even unluckier. Or the homeless shelter if they're still unluckier. It's not like we want to be moochers off the government's social services, but how do you feed your family when you can't find a job?

So how do we fix our economy and pay down the deficit? I have an idea. As Socialist Billionaire Warren Buffett says, the wealthiest Americans don't pay high enough taxes like they did in more prosperous years.

When our house was built, with it's fresh coat of white paint, it's new saplings planted in the front and back yard, it's smooth driveway and back yard patio, it's lush green lawn, back in 1956, more than likely only one of the parent's worked and the other parent stayed home and took care of the kids, the house, the family management. How did they do it on one income?

President Eisenhower, a republican, taxed the wealthiest citizens 91%. Today, during our so-called Socialist president Obama's administration, the highest citizens pay 35%. Another thing that helped pay for Eisenhower's programs: The GI Bill, our Interstate Highway System, paying off the war and subsequently brought prosperity to many Americans during the 1950s is that capital gains were not treated differently from earned income. The rich paid 91% then and only 15% now.

Think of all that lost revenue that could be paying down our deficit, to fund schools and libraries and senior services and services for people who simply can't take care of themselves, no fault of their own. Think of that money we could use to fix our crumbling bridges and levees and inner cities instead of whatever big toys or chicken nugget-like cuisine a few billionaires want.

Come on, people. Be sensible. Pay attention. I feel like the wealthiest Americans are robbing us while we're sitting in front of the screen watching people fall down in YouTube videos, Facebragging about our perfectly average child's developmental milestone, or blogging to a faceless friend, somewhere out there online.

Like me.  Ugh.