None of us had any money, and all of us had time.
November 16, 2014 3:29 AM   Subscribe

William McPherson was the editor of the Washington Post Book World and won a Pulitzer Prize. He retired early to explore and document Eastern Europe just after the fall of the Iron Curtain. Now he is poor and living in a welfare-subsidized housing project. His article in The Hedgehog Review is a clear-eyed personal look at surviving on an economic knife's-edge in America.
posted by Harvey Kilobit (54 comments total) 47 users marked this as a favorite
 
The Pulitzer Prize only awards $10,000. Don't plan to live on that forever.
posted by twoleftfeet at 3:51 AM on November 16, 2014 [6 favorites]


When I was 21, everyone kept encouraging me to go into journalism. This is exactly why I didn't.

At least he has his daughter.
posted by Melismata at 3:57 AM on November 16, 2014 [6 favorites]


He's not poor because he was a journalist. He's poor because he mismanaged all the money he earned, inherited and invested, as he says himself in the article.

It came across to me less as an article about poverty - the line where he talks about shopping in an upscale farmers market and bringing his homeless friend a gelato on the way out was kind of jarring - and more a cautionary tale about the careless approach to money some well-off people have. The impact of the well running dry is real, but it's a different impact than that of a lifetime of grinding poverty.
posted by billiebee at 4:35 AM on November 16, 2014 [27 favorites]


He's not poor because he was a journalist. He's poor because he mismanaged all the money he earned, inherited and invested, as he says himself in the article.

He's also poor because he had a major heart attack and because his medical costs have risen enormously while his pension is fixed. He oddly downplays that in the article (to the point of saying directly "Unlike many who are born, live, and die in poverty, I got where I am today through my own efforts. I can’t blame anyone else.") but in fact in a more compassionate society where health care wasn't such a crazy system, he would be more like genteel poor, rather than the kind of poor he is now.

His insistence on his own culpability is, in its way, very conservative, and keeps the focus on his choices rather than on bigger issues. His choices caused him to leave the middle class -- small changes along the way (like not selling the Apple stock) would have meant him staying comfortably middle class -- but he did not cause his health problems and he did not cause his health insurance costs to rise by at least an order of magnitude.
posted by Dip Flash at 4:43 AM on November 16, 2014 [105 favorites]


he would be more like genteel poor, rather than the kind of poor he is now

I'm not really sure what "genteel poor" means. I understand that the US health system is ridiculously punitive, and I am not arguing that his health problems have contributed to his situation. However to have been in a situation where his Apple options might have paid for his treatment, but he made a different choice, still sets him apart from people who have heart problems and who have never had a choice about how to pay for them. And I know I'm coming from a different country so my perspective is not the same as someone in the US, but to me living in a housing scheme with Tolstoy's great-grandson, shopping in farmers markets, and having relatives who pay for your plane tickets and dental care is the genteel poor.
posted by billiebee at 5:14 AM on November 16, 2014 [19 favorites]


The part that made me wince most was "I turned my brokerage account into a margin account for someone else to handle". He'd gotten lucky on the stock market, then he doubled down and trusted someone else to manage his luck. It didn't end well.

It's an interesting essay, in that it's honest and direct and unflinching. It's also a bit random, without any real conclusion to draw. Like real life.
posted by Nelson at 6:28 AM on November 16, 2014 [12 favorites]


The impact of the well running dry is real, but it's a different impact than that of a lifetime of grinding poverty.

This. His mother was correct about poverty is a state of mind-- he is genteel poor, not inner-city, refugee, generations-of-poverty-and-low-educational-attainment-type poor. His reality sounds tough, but the fact is, he wouldn't have had the guts (confidence that things would be okay tomorrow) to retire early and explore communism in Europe if he grew up worrying about where his next meal would come from. Poor people who grew up and lived a "lifetime of grinding poverty" have this chronic short-sightedness about money-- but not of the the sort he describes-- rather, it is mostly in the sense that they either save every penny and don't understand the concept of spending money to earn money, or that money is time... because their level of poverty hits at a much more fundamental, basal place on Maslow's hierarchy.
posted by gemutlichkeit at 6:39 AM on November 16, 2014 [11 favorites]


He seems to be a good writer with many years experience, he's a Pulitzer Prize winner, and he worked in journalism for decades and had to have gotten a reputation and contacts. Is it really so impossible for him to get some kind of job -- editing, say, or doing something administrative, if not writing -- somewhere?
posted by shivohum at 7:06 AM on November 16, 2014 [5 favorites]


Yes why don't the elderly just get jobs? This is a solution we can all get behind.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 7:15 AM on November 16, 2014 [34 favorites]


Yes why don't the elderly just get jobs? This is a solution we can all get behind.

It doesn't solve systemic problems, and it may not be optimal, but neither is living in what he considers undignified and grinding poverty. It's just surprising he doesn't even address the point.
posted by shivohum at 7:25 AM on November 16, 2014 [4 favorites]


I hear long-form thoughtful journalism is an up-and-coming profession with enormous growth potential.

Perhaps he should retrain himself to write linkbait articles. "15 Things You'd Never Expect About Being Poor!". "You Won't Believe These Life-Saving Tips About Living On Social Security!" "I Live With My Brother: You'll Never Guess The Most Humiliating Part!"

(BTW, for context, McPherson is 81 years old. He was about 60 when he moved to Romania to start the last phase of his journalism career.)
posted by Nelson at 7:30 AM on November 16, 2014 [30 favorites]


Yeah, he's currently 81. He clearly made some decisions a couple of decades ago that in retrospect don't seem so great, but at this point I don't think that getting a job is in the cards for him.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 7:31 AM on November 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


Is it really so impossible for him to get some kind of job -- editing, say, or doing something administrative, if not writing -- somewhere?

All three of those jobs pay nothing.
posted by Nevin at 7:32 AM on November 16, 2014 [15 favorites]


And if he makes a nickel too much, he could lose his housing subsidy and end up not being able to afford any kind of housing. So there's that.
posted by rtha at 7:38 AM on November 16, 2014 [27 favorites]


He's simultaneously over- and under-qualified for admin jobs. He presumably doesn't have any admin experience, which is usually required for those jobs, and most bosses would feel uncomfortable criticizing the filing skills of a Pulitizer-prize-winning journalist. It's just not true that because you were at the top of one field, you can easily transition into a much-less-prestigious other field.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 7:59 AM on November 16, 2014 [8 favorites]


Is it really so impossible for him to get some kind of job -- editing, say, or doing something administrative, if not writing -- somewhere?

He's been out of the workforce for thirty years. Do you want to train him to use SharePoint?
posted by octothorpe at 8:03 AM on November 16, 2014 [9 favorites]


shivohum, I'm in my mid-40s, thinking about moving on from my current position, and already getting stressed that people may look at me and think "too old". I doubt my plan to dye my hair would help him much.
posted by instead of three wishes at 8:19 AM on November 16, 2014 [2 favorites]


As my older brother, who to keep me off the streets invited me to live with him after his wife died, said, shaking his head in warning, “Don’t spend your capital.” His advice was right, but his timing was wrong. I’d already spent it.

My first best ever teacher insisted that I read David Copperfield. She said everybody should read David Copperfield. She said everybody should pay really close attention to Mister Miacawber.
posted by bukvich at 8:33 AM on November 16, 2014 [7 favorites]


As soon as he wrote "margin account" I already knew where that was going to go.

Index funds, people. Seriously. If you're going to invest in the market, that's the best course of action for 98% of humans.

He's correct that poor people are poor in their own ways. He descended into poverty through a series of (in retrospect) poor decisions and still managed a relatively soft landing (inasmuch as anything involving poverty can be "soft") and as noted elsewhere including by him, his experience of poverty is ameliorated by family and friends who act as his support net, and by the intangible benefits that being white, educated and formerly of a higher economic offer. "Best Possible Poverty" still sucks, of course, but it sucks less. It's good he recognizes it and has the ability to express it.

And again: Index funds, folks.
posted by jscalzi at 8:50 AM on November 16, 2014 [29 favorites]


Where is the outrage, that as a society, America continues to fail its citizens at multiple points across their lifespans?
posted by nickrussell at 9:23 AM on November 16, 2014 [7 favorites]


Follow your bliss.
posted by the hot hot side of randy at 10:04 AM on November 16, 2014 [4 favorites]


Is it really so impossible for him to get some kind of job -- editing, say, or doing something administrative, if not writing -- somewhere?

Being able to write and having good connections does not mean you can get a job as an editor, or an administrative job, or even a job as a writer. Even if you did win a Pulitzer. And when you are over 50 (let alone over 80) and unemployed, the likelihood of being hired to do anything becomes vanishingly small.

So to answer your question: yes, it is really so impossible, and not just for him.
posted by caryatid at 10:14 AM on November 16, 2014 [3 favorites]


Is it really so impossible for him to get some kind of job -- editing, say, or doing something administrative, if not writing -- somewhere?


I'm half his age and in much the same position. All you guys who think you've made the right choices, feeling comfortable, feel like you understand your world and how you got there, three words of advice: don't get old.
posted by ennui.bz at 10:20 AM on November 16, 2014 [35 favorites]


I'm all out of compassion after seeing too many real homeless.
posted by francesca too at 10:28 AM on November 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


Divorce is also expensive.

I take a (doubtless unhealthy) interest in the financial lives of creatives; those I know are struggling, have day jobs, got real lucky, or inherited. I'm not familiar with this fellow (a bad sign already), but I see his age and I immediately think of 79 year old Robert Caro. By Caro's own account he was down to beans and bread while working on The Power Broker, and yet since then, presumably on the strength of his one a decade output (c.f. Donna Tartt), he has done not badly at all. By sheer lack of output, he should be numbered a dilettante (or at least financial failure), and yet somehow, he's pulled it off. Perhaps lectures?

Know your market, I guess, and write page-turning prose. And if you're a writer, or any creative, really, don't retire, much less retire early.

Follow your bliss.

Yeah, that guy's got a whole lot to answer for.

(They always get that one wrong in U. S. History class).


"They" got it wrong back in 1776 when they decided to edit for touchy-feely instead of brass-tacks. Either that, or they were afraid that people would take the line literally. As Franklin said, “when the people find that they can vote themselves money that will herald the end of the republic".

But we digress.
posted by IndigoJones at 10:29 AM on November 16, 2014 [5 favorites]


Basic income, basic income, basic income.

We must show respect to each other. We must especially show respect to our elders. And respect is denominated in USD.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 10:41 AM on November 16, 2014 [19 favorites]


She said everybody should pay really close attention to Mister Micawber.

As long as the vast bulk of America's underclass thinks "something better is just around the corner if I work hard enough and that poor people deserve poverty because they are lazy" we will always have poverty.
posted by Renoroc at 10:50 AM on November 16, 2014 [7 favorites]


As Franklin said, “when the people find that they can vote themselves money that will herald the end of the republic".

No he didn't. de Tocqueville didn't say it either. Nor did Alexander Hamilton.

The sick thing is that the people who repeat this fake quote about the alleged fiscal irresponsibility of the public are generally repeating it in defense of the small coterie of oligarchs who actually do set financial policy and who actually are actively looting the treasury.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 10:53 AM on November 16, 2014 [36 favorites]


I know a lot of older people like this guy. Some of them are related to me. Every one of them are incredibly smart, talented, on-paper successful people, who for various reasons, have ended up spending the end of their lives in or on the edge of dire poverty. Some of them made "bad" decisions, but all ended up in unwinnable, uncomfortable and often alienating situations with no (or very little) retirement, insufficient health care, families that cannot/will not chip in and a society that generally views the elderly as an annoyance or a burden. It sucks. We can do better
posted by thivaia at 10:55 AM on November 16, 2014 [5 favorites]


Though I do feel for the guy... he did sort of put himself in this position. I mean the article indicates that he chose to quit his job.

I work in HR (I've probably mentioned that way too much already) and you know who I really feel sorry for? All the older people who come into my office and are forced into retirement simply because no one wants to hire anyone their age. In some cases it makes sense- if the person is slow and has health issues that may impede their work, but in most cases I see 50 year olds that have the same or more energy of 35 year olds, trying to get work, but as soon as our clients find out their age, their no longer interested in hiring them or giving them another interview.

The problem of ageism in the workforce has gotten even worse. It used to be that if someone was 48, but looked 38 I could still get the client into them. Nowadays the background checks have gotten more stringent so it doesn't matter how young you look- A quick lookup of your ss# shows an employer your DOB. And they DO base their hiring decisions on it. I'm one of those people that loves to work and I used to say that I will never retire, but after being in HR all these years I came to realize that even if you don't plan on it, you will probably still have to because employers want 'em young and cute. Of coarse different industries have different quirks about what they consider "old" too. And the government has made things harder by pushing the ridiculous notion that employers, landlords etc- are somehow owed your date of birth info.
posted by rancher at 11:01 AM on November 16, 2014 [14 favorites]


actually, i take it back. live long enough that you're 45, living in a SRO in East Palo Alto with folder of worthless stock options after 4 failed start-ups, waiting for the recruiter to call.

at least this dude has a pension, you guys are fucked once the internet money circus packs up and moves on.
posted by ennui.bz at 11:06 AM on November 16, 2014 [7 favorites]


Is it really so impossible for him to get some kind of job -- editing, say, or doing something administrative, if not writing -- somewhere?

"Are there no prisons?" asked Scrooge.

"Plenty of prisons," said the gentleman, laying down the pen again.

"And the Union workhouses?" demanded Scrooge. "Are they still in operation?"

"They are. Still," said the gentleman, "I wish I could say they were not."

"The Treadmill and the Poor Law are in full vigour, then?" said Scrooge.

"Both very busy, sir."

"Oh! I was afraid, from what you said at first, that something had stopped them in their useful course," said Scrooge. "I am very glad to hear it."
posted by blucevalo at 11:06 AM on November 16, 2014 [12 favorites]


Sure, this man made some bad decisions, and yes, people who have been poor all their lives have it much worse. But it seems to me that the US is rich enough that everyone could have a guaranteed basic income, so that if things like this happen, they're not left dependent on the charity of family members to eke out a tiny pension. (I know the US is rich enough but the will to create a stronger safety net is not there; I'm talking "in the best of worlds, this would happen.")

Writing is not a career which demands physical stamina, but at 85, I doubt this man is going to be able to get a writing job. And certainly he shouldn't "have to" work at 85.

I've been thinking, lately, about the necessity for some kind of guaranteed basic income. If the job market now is such that nobody wants to hire anyone under 25 or over 45 - that gives you only twenty years to have a career and earn money. Someone who only works for 20 years but lives to be 85 is going to spend most of their life not working and not earning. And there's no way to save up enough money from 25 to 45 to tide you over a 40-year retirement.

This man took an early retirement, but he had a kind of "encore career" that didn't pay a lot, and then overspent and put the rest in bad investments. So he's not like the ordinary Joe or Josephine who is laid off at 45 and then considered "too old," or who works in a manual labor job and whose body wears out early, or who is a buggy-whip maker whose job field has disappeared; he is where he is partly through his own choices, but, that doesn't mean he has to suffer; his choices only harmed himself, not others, as far as I know. If he was a deadbeat dad or he divorced because he wanted to date women half his age, or he spent all his money on drugs and call girls, I admit I'd be less than sympathetic.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 11:21 AM on November 16, 2014 [5 favorites]


Nowadays the background checks have gotten more stringent so it doesn't matter how young you look

I was out of work this last year for about ten months, and I'm pretty damn sure that one of the reasons was that I'm going to be fifty in about three weeks. I love having grey hair, but I colored it the day I realized I was going to be laid off. Didn't make any difference: a quick look at my resume or my LinkedIn profile would reveal my age.

I was able to get some short-term gigs with an old boss, and eventually I got hired back as a contractor by the same agency that had laid me off last year. Basically, the people who were willing to give me work were people who already knew me: nobody else was going to take a chance on a middle-aged woman when there were so many younger (cheaper) people out there.
posted by suelac at 11:30 AM on November 16, 2014 [7 favorites]


@Suelac Unfortunately the "cheaper" aspect is secondary (though still valid). From what I can tell clients (employers) will hire younger even at the same salary point. 98% of them know that ageism is illegal so they are discrete about what they say. But occasionally we do still get that client who flat out says, "This resume is great! I may want to see this person. How old are they?"

"We are not allowed to tell you that sir."

"Oh, right. Just send us their application" (which has nothing in it that cannot be answered by their resume , except it does have their SS# on it).

(2 hours later)- "Yeah, after reviewing the resume we decided this person isn't for us. Can you find us people who graduated college around the year ____?

I'm still "young" myself, but I would love to read the writings of an 85 year old if they're any good. The life they lived before cellphones and personal computers is fascinating to me and I think very valuable for learning via history. When I go to the movies I often find older actors to be the best ones. My favorite movie is "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" and it's cast is primarily mature actors. The movie industry of course doesn't have a lot of work for older actors either and this movie is full of great talent. I think society is really missing out on the value a person has after a certain age.
posted by rancher at 11:50 AM on November 16, 2014 [4 favorites]


@rancher: Do you think the age discrimination is mostly an artifact of the poor job market and/or where you live? As I see it, employers can be picky, so they are; if there were as many jobs as there were in the late 90's when unemployment was at rock bottom, I bet you'd see a lot less age discrimination, because the butts HAVE to be in the seats. Maybe older people wouldn't get the best jobs, but they would have something. Employers might want someone "young and cute" but if unemployment was at 4%, as it was in 1999, I think they would suck it up and be less fussy and demanding.

This is why I think that the time for a guaranteed basic income has arrived. If there are not enough jobs for the people who want to work, are able to work, and are well-qualified and skilled, then they have to have SOME kind of income.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 11:57 AM on November 16, 2014 [3 favorites]


I love how we all have to live our lives without a single misstep in order to deserve a decent retirement and freedom from poverty.
posted by maxwelton at 12:00 PM on November 16, 2014 [50 favorites]


He has a lot of company. The average income for single person aged 80 or above is $16,931.
posted by xigxag at 12:09 PM on November 16, 2014


@Suelac Unfortunately the "cheaper" aspect is secondary (though still valid). From what I can tell clients (employers) will hire younger even at the same salary point.

Yeah, but salary point isn't the only thing that makes younger workers cheaper. Benefits costs increase, too - more covered dependents on average, increased healthcare costs for the employer, probably a higher usage of both paid and unpaid leave...

Oh, and the fact that given two salaried workers, the younger person will, on average, be easier to convince to work more hours for the same pay.

Obviously there are many exceptions to this rule (young single parents, for instance), but within a certain segment of the employment market (startups in the Bay Area come to mind), younger = easier to exploit due to lack of significant non-work obligations, even without salary differential.
posted by deludingmyself at 12:22 PM on November 16, 2014


@Rosie Yes, certainly the economy has something to do with it. But I find that a lot of people especially recruiters look back on the golden age of hiring which was the late 90's and early 2000's and are looking for when it's going to come back while calling all the years after that a "recession". I don't know a whole lot about world economics, but in my mind a recession is something that lasts 2years - maybe 5 years tops. Anything longer than that and it's not a recession anymore, but a "new reality". There was a unique combination of things going on that allowed for that growth in the late 90's/early 2000's and I do not believe we will ever see that kind of growth in our lifetimes again. I could be wrong, but that's what I believe.

I recently saw a play by Bernard Shaw that he wrote in the late 1800's before it was performed in the early 1900's called "Major Barbara". In it there is a character who was fired from his job after his employer found out his real age so he fired him and replaced him with a younger guy despite the fact that both men could do the job equally well. Since the character has gone prematurely grey he also looks older than he is as well and employers were reluctant to hire him. When I saw this play I realized that this issue has been a problem for a LONG time. Ageism in the workforce ain't nothing new and all the HR laws that have passed since then haven't made much difference. The only difference is that as time moves forward it becomes much harder for an employer to hide your personal information (which I believe age should be under) and get judged on your ability to perform rather than on all the freely available information.
posted by rancher at 12:36 PM on November 16, 2014


Rosie M. Banks: "If there are not enough jobs for the people who want to work, are able to work, and are well-qualified and skilled, then they have to have SOME kind of income"

Rosie has just pointed out one possible solution to one of the top 2-3 looming social problems that is sitting on our doorstep. Here's a very well done study out of Oxford; it predicts that 50% of all American jobs (in fact, results can be projected, worldwide) will be lost to automation within 20 years. Combine that with a projected population increase from 7.1 billion to well over 10 billion by 2050. Something has to be done.
posted by Vibrissae at 12:39 PM on November 16, 2014 [4 favorites]


As Franklin said, “when the people find that they can vote themselves money that will herald the end of the republic".

No he didn't. de Tocqueville didn't say it either. Nor did Alexander Hamilton.


This has already been pointed out to the same poster in a completely different thread, along with the salient observation that if it were even remotely true, it has had over two and a quarter centuries to manifest itself, not just, I might add, in the US, either.

I expect this observation to have a similar impact here, i.e. none at all.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 1:17 PM on November 16, 2014 [6 favorites]


As much as it sometimes sucks to be a young lawyer in today's market, at least attorneys and doctors are one of the few jobs where ageism is mostly nonexistant. People still value the wise old partner, the old solo attorney who's been around for 1000 cases, or the doctor who's seen everything over a long career. You may never "retire", but you'll never really be completely out of a job just because some douchenozzle in HR thinks you're too old, even if you have go out on your own or only work part time out of a shared office.
posted by T.D. Strange at 1:39 PM on November 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


I'm all out of compassion after seeing too many real homeless.

It's always good to see someone taking a firm line against the poseur homeless.
posted by thelonius at 1:56 PM on November 16, 2014 [22 favorites]


I agree wholeheartedly with Rosie Banks re need for a guaranteed income, hard as it is to imagine the U.S. committing to it. And I hate that that brings to mind this discussion ("prophylactic suicide") from the NYT.
posted by mmiddle at 2:03 PM on November 16, 2014


> 50% of all American jobs (in fact, results can be projected, worldwide) will be lost to automation within 20 years. Combine that with a projected population increase from 7.1 billion to well over 10 billion by 2050. Something has to be done.

Well, police departments everywhere are buying a lot of weapons and riot gear.
posted by The Card Cheat at 2:08 PM on November 16, 2014 [2 favorites]


Well, police departments everywhere are buying a lot of weapons and riot gear.

Not even buying, they're getting it for free from the Pentagon.
posted by T.D. Strange at 2:36 PM on November 16, 2014 [3 favorites]


I'm all out of compassion after seeing too many real homeless.

That kind of reeks of the "well they can't be real poor if they have TVs and cell phones" sort of attitude that seems so prevalent these days. We'll help the poor but they have to prove that they're really fucking poor before they qualify for our largess.
posted by octothorpe at 3:38 PM on November 16, 2014 [12 favorites]


No he didn't.

What a shame! I stand corrected. And as I look further than I did first time out, I find that Alexander Tyler or Tytler also did not say it either, (though that's an interesting story in its own right). Takes a big man to admit he was wrong. No matter, I have learned something I did not know, it is a good day. Ever open to correction and new things, me.

Which is an attitude that someone who dismisses things and people he does not agree with by broad-brushing them as "sick" could benefit from. Oddly enough, and contra the accusation, sick I have indeed criticized the oligarchs and their poodles who are debasing the currency and looting the country.

We'll help the poor but they have to prove that they're really fucking poor before they qualify for our largess.

Well, it is a question, isn't it? And one that goes back millennia if you care to look. The whole notion of sturdy beggars arises from this. Does society have a right to expect anything in return for largess? Is it charity if the government makes donating compulsory, and what if anything does that do to the charitable impulse? What does it do to the recipient if they assume it is owed and part of a natural order? Does allocating money from infrastructure to largess make better sense than the reverse? At what point does that largess become insupportable to the economy as a whole? I have no answers, but they are legitimate questions that tend to get lost in the urgency of the here and now. Everything has unexpected consequences, not necessarily good.
posted by IndigoJones at 4:38 PM on November 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


I am homeless right now (HHS definition, not HUD, for those of you who are the delightfully nitpicky busybody sorts who run comparative tests on the "realness" or "worthiness" of such situations.) I have compassion for this guy. So I am just going to flat out play that fucking trump card for what I hope is the only time in my life over people who are all sniffy about this guy. "Well I know people who are homeless, so I can't bring myself to feel anything."

Well, I am homeless, and I can. So maybe you need to try harder. Christ.

(mr. digits and Fretful Porpentine, if either of you read this and tell people, we will have words, I am just saying. I'm going to be fine: I am still working a decent job and fortunate enough to have a reliable car; it won't be chronic; this is going to get solved; it is just a blip with complications and a rough patch, okay? I have help here, and things will stabilize. Miss you both, and I suck at MeMail.)
posted by Uniformitarianism Now! at 5:49 PM on November 16, 2014 [24 favorites]


I worked for 31 years, full-time, sometimes two jobs at once; 10 years of that were at a decent salary, 11 years at an obscenely low hourly rate, and the last 10 years at a good salary. When I was knocked into retirement and disability by Parkinson's at the age of 48, I had no pension but I did have short-term disability insurance through the hospital I worked for. It took nine months for SSDI to come through and the same nine months for the hospital's plan, which added $500 a month to the SSDI. That only lasted for five years though - then the $500 disappeared and I was down to SSDI only. When I turned 65 the SSDI turned to SS, same amount, and that's what I live on. I have HUD-subsidized housing and am damn glad of it. I get a discount on my telephone bill, and I have Medicare - and the State pays my Medicare premium. I make $1,287 a month. I don't get food stamps, dental or vision care. I think this puts me in a similar position to this man.

But here's the thing: I don't consider myself poor. I have enough money to afford the rent I have to pay, to buy plenty of food, clothing and whatever else I need, to pay my copays for medicines and doctor visits, keep my birds in expensive bird feed, and blow a bunch of money at WalMart once in awhile. I'm not hurting at all. So far, I haven't had to ask my kids or granddaughter for financial help - I'm more likely to be subsidizing my son's needs - and I certainly have no money coming in from investments or inheritances. I choose to live without television because it drives me nuts, not because I can't afford it. I have a computer and a camera and a sewing machine and a scooter and God-knows-how-many rubber stamps and other crafty stuff.

When my world collapsed and I was no longer able to work, I was absolutely devastated. I loved my job and expected to work another 15-20 years enjoying every minute of it. I had just bought my first house, painted it inside and outside, landscaped it to the max, installed new carpet, new fence, new appliances, and just bought my first computer ($2,200 with 1MB hard drive!) My granddaughter was four and I was really getting into being a Super Grandma. It happened fast enough to leave me a mess psychologically and I made a lot of mistakes - like selling the house immediately because I thought I couldn't pay for it if I had Parkinson's and would therefore lose my job and c r a s h! Anyway, the first few years were tough, but there is a groove even for those of us who are floundering if we get lucky enough to land in it and I did. So now I'm doing well, and this man seems to be doing well also. Good for both of us.

I guess I'm alone here, but honestly I just can't sympathize with this man's plight. He's had opportunities to move into a more secure position financially, but chose adventure and living life to the fullest when he was young and healthy and strong instead. So - I don't know why anyone should feel too sorry for him. He's had experiences as a journalist that the rest of us can only wish we'd had - those memories are incredibly valuable. If he were hungry, if Social Security didn't exist (which is what it was intended for anyway - social security) - if he were homeless, cold, mentally or physically unable to take care of himself, without family, frightened - I'd be right on top of it to take this man in and give him help and take the fear away.

But I have to agree, in this case only, with his mother - that his poverty is in his mindset.
posted by aryma at 6:09 PM on November 16, 2014 [11 favorites]


HHS definition, not HUD

For those, like me, who didn't know how those differ: definitions. If I'm reading those correctly I've qualified under HHS multiple times in the past, but never HUD.

I take a (doubtless unhealthy) interest in the financial lives of creatives; those I know are struggling, have day jobs, got real lucky, or inherited.

Don't forget the time-honored "have a spouse with a job" option, which is of course only as secure as both the job and relationship.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:10 PM on November 16, 2014 [4 favorites]


The "spouse with a job" business is one reason a lot of people stay together, sometimes even when they shouldn't.

Then there's the other side - old people who divorce so they can collect more money from Social Security - two individual checks are a better deal.
posted by aryma at 6:23 PM on November 16, 2014 [2 favorites]


This article made me much more worried about his friend Kenny than the author himself.
posted by yellowcandy at 8:35 PM on November 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


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