I've been pondering this article all morning, amazed at the truths it tells and the things that it gets, well, if not wrong, only, at best half right. The point of the NYT story is that average Americans have been sinking deeper and deeper into debt, while the companies that loan them money have been doing very well indeed. And that's an important point that needs to be made.
What intrigues me, though, are the points that the article can't help making, although it does try and elide them. Note that the financial troubles of the woman in the story are, more than anything else, the result of the fact that she needed a hysterectomy and had a burst appendix. In many countries all across the globe, those events wouldn't threaten financial ruin.
But as happens with many debt-laden Americans, an unexpected illness helped push Ms. McLeod over the edge. In January 2006, her doctor told her she needed a hysterectomy. She had health care coverage, but she could no longer work at a second job.
She made matters worse during her recovery, while watching home shopping channels. “Eight weeks in bed by yourself is very dangerous when you have a TV and credit card,” Ms. McLeod said. “QVC was my friend.”
Later that year, Ms. McLeod realized she was in trouble, squeezed by her mortgage and credit card payments, her $350 monthly car bill, rising energy prices and a stagnant salary. She started to sell knickknacks, handbags, clothing and other items on eBay to help cover her heating and food bills. She stopped paying her credit cards so that she could afford her mortgage.
A year ago she was back in the hospital, this time with a burst appendix. Her condition worsened, and she lost the use of one kidney. She spent 19 days in the hospital and six weeks recuperating. Her prescription-drug costs added to her expenses, and by September she could no longer pay her mortgage.
Throughout the article, there's an emphasis upon the woman's responsibility for her own problems. (Ms. McLeod, who is 47, readily admits her money problems are largely of her own making.) She left her husband! She wanted some nice handbags and some jewelry! (NO discussion, at all, of the role that advertising may play in this issue.) There's no discussion about how government-paid-for health care and government programs to force employers to give employees time off from work for health problems could have helped Ms. McLeod. Nor is there any suggestion that perhaps some visiting nurse services (remember visiting nurses? from the 50s and 60s?) could have helped her to focus on other activities during her recuperation. I'm not sure exactly why, but something about this reminds me of how absolutely horrible the waiting area was in the local 24 hour drug store when I had to sit there at 2:00 am a few years ago to fill a prescription for an ear infection on a Saturday morning after a Friday night in the emergency room. And I just kept thinking, though my pain and exhaustion: lots of lost opportunities here. Lots of lost opportunities to foster health and healing and better lives.
Similarly, "rising energy prices and a stagnant salary" are mentioned in passing, as if they were simply facts of life, and not deliberate policy decisions by a Republican-controlled Congress, WH, and court-system (and, since 2006 by completely ineffective Democrats. Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi, I'm looking at you).
Should Ms. McLeod have done a better job of understanding the terms of her credit (babe, I want a Kelly bag worse than almost anything in the world, but NO handbag is worth 28% interest!)? Sure. One wonders how she graduated from high school without a basic understanding of this concept. (Oh, yeah, that's right. To the extent that high schools even teach consumer math, they generally do so with materials provided by BANKS AND CREDIT CARD COMPANIES!) But Ms. McLeod isn't the problem here. Where's the NYT story where the chairman of Wachovia gives up his stock options and golden parachute while readily admitting that the bank's money problems are largely of his own making?
And, explain to me again, why aren't we in the streets with pitchforks? Well, being told that the problems are our own fault plays a role in keeping people at home and depressed rather than in the streets and angry. And the NYT, where do its interests lie?
Extra bonus points: Count in comments the ways in which the photo is judgemental.
I'm a woman, a Witch, a mother, a grandmother, an eco-feminist, a gardener, a reader, a writer, and a priestess of the Great Mother Earth. Hecate appears in the
Homeric Ode to Demeter, which tells of Hades who caught Persophone
"up reluctant on his golden car and bare her away lamenting. . . . But no one, either of the deathless gods or of mortal men, heard her voice, nor yet the olive-trees bearing rich fruit: only tenderhearted Hecate, bright-coiffed, the daughter of Persaeus, heard the girl from her cave . . . ."