Aargh! Just Aargh.
In our town we have a small, out of the way thrift store, dark and not heavily patronized except by people who are very down and out. The owner—and who knows her story—sells what she can, but is always willing to help out the homeless with clothing or outdoor equipment that they need to survive in this wet environment where there are beaches for sleeping and woods for encampments, soup kitchens for food, tourists for panhandling, the library for web access.
It’s not just the homeless. Garage sales and thrift stores that once were a lark for drag queens and bull dykes are such a way of life now. If the 1% or the 20% are able to buy everything they want, the rest of us, in the current economy, are grateful to be able to buy their castoffs. The underground economy—helping the destitute, bartering goods and services, garage sales, web lists—by necessity isn’t so underground any more.
Dollar stores are crazy busy since the so-called Great Recession, and not due to recreational shopping. Their food products are often good buys if you’re in the habit of reading labels carefully and their books can be great finds for $1.00, though the authors get nothing for their years of work. I find it bewildering that dollar store corporations are gobbling one another up and making someone, somewhere, obscenely rich.
Goodwill does great work, but they’re huge now and their prices are getting out of range. I, along with many of my neighbors, regularly buy from the local, less expensive Humane Society thrift shop. For household items, we matronize the ReStore, thank you Jimmy Carter. Our local cobbler can’t keep up with all the shoe repairs he gets. If we can’t fix something ourselves, we employ handymen or women, rather than licensed, bonded, insured workers, to repair our roofs, our driveways, our plumbing.
We’re all what used to be called middle class people. Just try being middle class when the Social Security checks start arriving. There was no 2016 cost of living (COLA) increase in these payments, earned through lifetimes of hard work. Something does not compute. The inflation rate didn’t trigger a COLA, but I’m paying $50, $70 or much more for generic prescription drugs that last year had no or minimal co-pays. To use a phrase from Dorothy Allison, I also call it criminal capitalism when older Americans can’t afford good health.
I count my lucky stars that my financial issues are at a level where I’m concerned about the cost of medications, not their total inaccessibility.
Of course the pharmaceutical companies are blaming the Affordable Care Act. Once again, a tool created for the people is being used to increase profits. Drugs are not manufactured to relieve pain or cure cancer or to prolong lives, they’re manufactured to make money. The balance has gone out of any equation that included keeping people alive and come down heavily on the side of making a financial killing. Aargh! Just aargh.
Online there’s Craigslist, the middleman of bartering. There’s Freecycle where people give away what they can’t sell or don’t need. I’m seeing a lot fewer listings on Freecycle than I did pre-recession. One of our friends, an underpaid care worker, shops garage sales as much as we do. For birthdays and winter holidays we exchange boxes of garage sale goodies, mailing our lightweight packages if we can’t meet. Has anyone else noticed how you can prepare a meal for a family of four on what it costs to mail a package now?
Even petsitting, a perennial cash service, is getting all big business on us. There are pet care companies with actual employees and franchises. What ever happened to the neighbors? Word of mouth? Signs on the vet’s bulletin board? We’re monetizing every little bit of America. And the world. Uber and Lyft were great ideas until they started raking in the bucks and grew and grew, taking jobs away from regulated cab drivers.
Politicians want to squeeze cash from our national monuments. Oil companies can’t wait to guzzle up natural resources from wildlife refuges. Prisons are privatized, hospitals connive to get more money from Medicare. All of this drives up costs and takes what was once affordable out of reach.
The bigger the corporations, the lower the wages, the fewer the jobs. And the corporations swell each time they subsume another business and dump another thousand employees. I am astounded by the monopolizing going on in the U.S. We have laws to prevent such boundless greed. Apparently we need more than brakes on businesses, we need an enormous emergency brake.
A phenomenon that seems to be more common is the return, after their divorces and downsized jobs, of very adult children in their fifties and sixties, moving in with aged mom or dad in senior housing communities and elsewhere. These sons and daughters have little or nothing left; the parent is beginning to need help around his small manufactured home. These now older workers don’t go out and find jobs, mom becomes the job. The kids inherit the property and have shelter as long as they can pay the taxes. The next step may be homelessness—and a visit to the kind thrift store owner.