The C is for Crank

I Am the 99 Percent

By Erica C. Barnett October 6, 2011

Reading over the testimonials at I Am the 99 Percent, the Occupy Wall Street blog, I feel both humbled and lucky.

Humbled because I can't imagine what most of them---jobless, without insurance, without a safety net, without hope---are going through.

And lucky, because I have never had to go for long periods without health insurance, because I don't have much student debt, because I went to an affordable state school on scholarship (at a time when state schools were still affordable) because I have a family who wouldn't let me end up on the street, because I'm old enough that when I entered my chosen field, journalism, there were still journalism jobs to be had. Lucky because I have a job I love---in a city I chose---a decent salary, health insurance, and a wonderful network of coworkers, friends, and family. Lucky because I've never had to choose between rent and food, or beg for money, or take out a payday loan at a 900 percent interest rate to make ends meet from week to week. Lucky because I don't have a mortgage, or kids to support, or a chronic medical condition.

But I am still the 99 percent. Although I have always had a job, I (like most everyone I know) have never made more than enough to live paycheck to paycheck. When I've had medical emergencies, I've paid for them largely out of pocket. I have tens of thousands of dollars in credit card debt---much of it at interest rates of 25, 28, or 30 percent---that I no longer believe I'll ever be able to pay off.

The prospect of getting a mortgage is a dream I no longer harbor. Just paying my $915 rent is a monthly task of Sisyphean magnitude. I don't believe Social Security will exist when I'm old enough to collect it (and I expect to work until I can't work any longer). I got rid of my car because it was an albatross, yes, but also because I could no longer afford it. I'm still wearing the same clothes (and sleeping on the same mattress) that I bought in college, more than 15 years ago.

I didn't go to the dentist for three years because the out-of-pocket costs were insane. I take the bus to buy groceries at the Safeway not because I like the selection better, but because it's cheaper than the (much closer) PCC. I don't always buy the quality of groceries I would like because they cost twice as much as the cheap stuff from Mexico. And yes, in spite of my environmental convictions, I sometimes go to McDonald's.

I understand the frustration of critics who say the Occupy Wall Street/LA/Seattle etc. protesters should present a coherent plan for fixing the nation's income inequality. I also recognize that that's a wildly unrealistic demand. The protesters' job isn't to legislate, or file policy briefs, or place editorials in the New York Times, but to call attention to the fact that there's something fucked up about a nation in which the American Dream is closed to all but the very few, and that's something the Occupy folks have done exceedingly well.

Add another reason to feel humble and lucky: Thousands of people are taking the time to stand up for me.
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