by Nancy Werking Poling,
author of Had Eve Come First and Jonah Been a Woman
and Out of the Pumpkin Shell
I daresay that politicians making decisions about Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security are unfamiliar with the lives of those who daily provide them with services necessary for their comfortable life: the stock man at the grocery story, the woman who cleans their home, the Mexican dishwasher at their favorite restaurant, the Korean couple who washes and irons their shirts, the single mother who delivers The Washington Post to their door before she gets the children off to school and goes to a second job.
Maybe it’s living in the South where folks seem freer to tell you their story. Maybe in retirement I take more time to notice those whose work makes my life easier. It could be I’m more aware because small-town living doesn’t separate the classes the way urban living does.
Last winter a neighbor borrowed our snow shovel. She planned to buy one the next time she got paid. Tears welled in the eyes of the young man installing our kitchen cabinets, as he told me he had thirty-five dollars to his name when he got a refund on the double-wide trailer home that made his son sick. With the help of a neighbor out of work and the generosity of others, who gave him plumbing fixtures and kitchen cabinets, he was able to build a three-bedroom house for $25,000.
A few weeks ago two veterans in their late fifties, who have temporary housing at the nearby Veterans facility, were grateful for the work when we hired them to build a stairway up the steep bank behind our house. Our neighbor’s decision to build a wooden fence employed two men whose construction business had gone bust. All around our community men and women will perform any odd job for meager pay.
And there are the immigrants. The young Vietnamese couple who run the local nail spa work six and a half days a week. The young Mexican man who keeps his tiny store open every day gets up at 3:00 a.m. three mornings a week to drive to Atlanta for fresh fruits and vegetables.
My financial future, as a retiree, feels uncertain right now, yet I can’t help but worry about these people who have not had extra money to put into a retirement plan, whose employers provide no benefits, who cannot afford health insurance. (Imagine the people I’ve described paying $680 a month for Medicare and supplemental health insurance, as my husband and I do.) I see sixty-year-old waitresses, sixty-year-old men doing strenuous manual labor. How will they survive when their bodies can no longer maintain this effort?
Entitlement programs, we call Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, often inferring that people who have worked hard feel unduly entitled to money they have not earned. Those who stand all day, carry heavy loads, and in other ways physically tax their bodies deserve no less than I the right to adequate housing, food, and medical care in their later years.