Features » April 19, 2004
How to Live on $577 a Month
Why I entertained the fantasy that Bush would send me $400 I can’t explain.
The Social Security Administration recently informed me that I’ve earned enough “credits” for my child to receive $577 per month in benefits “if you die this year.”
Five hundred and seventy-seven dollars a month. It’s funny. I used to get exactly that on welfare: a young broke single mom with her sweet fat baby. Five hundred and seventy-seven dollars. But that was a long time ago—before Newt explained to me “personal responsibility”; before my 21-year-old self was blamed for everything from economic decline to the moral decay of Western Civilization; before Clinton signed welfare reform while getting a blowjob from an intern; before Bush Jr. stole the White House; before my baby morphed into a teenager.
Five hundred and seventy-seven dollars a month. Was it enough? Of course not. But it was rent or utilities or food, take your pick. Five hundred and seventy-seven dollars a month: Now I have to die to get it.
When my middle-class friends started receiving their $400 tax credits in the mail (supposed to make them turn a blind eye to the $350 billion tax giveaway Bush Jr. handed the wealthiest Americans), I waited by my mailbox.
Mine was a working family, was it not? But, no? It seems that although I’ve been working at least 40 hours a week and earning income since I got out of school and got off welfare, I, like hundreds of thousands of low-paid military personnel, didn’t earn enough to qualify mine as a “working family.”
Why I entertained the fantasy that Bush would send me $400 I can’t explain. Maybe it’s the same naïveté that made me imagine I could treat my daughter to a public school education and not expect military recruiters to meet her at the door when she entered middle school. Naïveté because, alas, buried deep in the No Child Left Behind Act—W’s education law passed in 2001—is a provision requiring all public secondary schools to provide military recruiters with access to facilities and contact information for students.
So at the tender age of 11, despite my specific protests, my girl-child came home from school with a U.S. Navy Frisbee and an attitude that said, “Mom, you just don’t understand what these nice people want to do for kids.”
These nice people and their $577 a month.
If I didn’t know better, I could listen to their rhetoric and imagine that the transfer of resources in this country was from rich to poor rather than the other way around. We nanny their children. We pay their mortgages with our rent checks. We till their fields. And when they offer us $577 a month, they act as if they are giving us a gift. When we demand it, they say we suffer from “a sense of entitlement.”
“You haven’t really worked,” they say.
So, if not working, what exactly have I been doing these past 33 years to earn Social Security “credits”?
Besides having a 14-year-old daughter I have to protect from Uncle Sam and the Supreme Court on a daily basis—a girl-child who grew up on welfare and food stamps but who nonetheless is apparently healthy enough to fight for a government that never fought for her—I teach high school. Yep. I work with the folks Education Secretary Rod Paige referred to as “a terrorist organization.” And you thought you’d have to do more than instruct kids on the art of metaphor to be labeled an enemy combatant.
Apparently, Rod was kidding.
Not kidding was the baby-faced student who walked into my senior creative writing workshop a day later and announced that he couldn’t wait to get home and tell his mama that she wouldn’t have to pay his college tuition after all.
“How’s that?” I piped up, imagining that this gifted student had gotten a full scholarship from the Rotary Club or the United Negro College Fund.
“I’ve joined the Army! My mom’s been working her butt off all her life for me, but now I’m taking responsibility for my own education!”
My baby-faced student—one of just a handful I thought understood the concept of “metaphor.”
“Why you trippin’?” he stammered as my face fell.
The following week, he showed up with a crew cut. And he never wrote me another metaphor.
It’s almost enough to make you start rooting for the draft. At least then the children of the corporate criminals who are profiting from this war might have to go, too.
But when I turn on my television, who’s the corporate criminal preparing to go to prison? It’s the single mom and housewife extraordinaire—Martha Stewart—who will pay for a thousand illegal stock trades, a thousand atrocious sweatshops. The mother. The housewife. The woman so uppity as to think she was entitled to more than $577 a month.
Ariel Gore is the editor-publisher of Hip Mama and the author of four books including Whatever, Mom: Hip Mama’s Guide to Raising a Teenager. Go to www.whatevermom.com