I know someone who has worked at Wal-Mart for some 18 years. She works hard; along with back and knee pain she has recently been suffering from a heel spur. She refuses to get a cortisone shot because the doctor refuses to write her an excuse to get three days off work so that she can stay off her feet while the shot is taking effect.
After 18 years, she makes about $17 an hour. She will never make a penny more. Her pay is capped, so that regardless of glowing evaluations, on which pay raises are based, she is not eligible for a raise. Rather, she figures they are waiting for her to retire so that someone will do her job for much lower pay.
My friend doesn't live big. She doesn't go away on vacation, she and her husband do their own home and car repairs when possible, and they live well within their means. But every few months, they head out to Foxwoods Casino and spend a little money on the slots. They budget how much they are going to spend and assume they will play and mostly lose, but they enjoy the night out.
This time at Foxwoods, they had an amazing night. Early on, she won $400 and he won $800. An hour later, she had won another $100 and he had won $400 more. As they cashed in, they looked like two cats that had both swallowed canaries.
They made their way up to their room, trying very hard not to let others see their excitement, but when they got to their room, they burst into giggles, took pictures, exclaimed over and over how this had never happened before.
Then they hid the winnings.
Not too long after that, they became serious. They began to talk about what they would do with the windfall. They decided they were going to do a long awaited car repair and fix the floor in the kitchen.
This is the way it goes for most of us. Those windfalls these days don't go towards a vacation or even a new car. We plan to pay down the mortgage, to get that dental work done, to stash the money in a college account for the kids (and hope we don't need to take it out for an emergency). People who spend too much money gambling or on the lottery are mostly dreaming of a life without burdensome bills and the fear of financial crisis, a life they will never have otherwise.
While the wealthy are stashing money offshore or on Wall Street where they don't have to pay the same taxes we do on our earnings, most of us are just trying to handle our financial obligations. Our entertainments are modest, as are our plans for the next week, the next month, the next year.
It's just insulting to hear the wealthy and their paid representatives in Congress, most of whom have wealth and job guarantees that we will never dream of having, talk about how we need to pull in our belts. The taxes they don't pay, that would turn our country around from what has thus far been an inexorable plunge to third world status, the profits they hoard, these fortunes are intended for their own children. Who don't live by the same standards they expect our children to live by -- it's understood that they should not in their lives have to worry or even work to get by.
And here we are, in the twenty-first century, bad roads, mediocre education, being told we are lucky to live in this great country, with all this opportunity. Where Exxon can hike the price of gas as high as it likes, but the government won't raise taxes for roads. Where we are made to believe that we have to choose between jobs and environment. Where big business controls us with groups like A.L.E.C. while they systematically get rid of our own unions. And where those big corporate groups and politicians keep us fighting among ourselves over our right to medical privacy and religious freedom while they rape and plunder our country.
And all our hard work leaves us little time, energy or desire to fight for our rights. So much to lose, and yet so little.