Economic Struggle - Your Stories - Part II

--- Posted 4/29/08

We live week by week if something was to happen where my husband would miss work from being sick or lay off we would lose our house and everything we own. I am on disablity and it breaks my heart that I can no longer work, 4 years ago I was bringing home nearly $2000 a month, now I get $709 a month. I thank the Lord above that my children are grown and working with their own families that they don't have to live like we are now. My meds take up a part of my %$709. every month. And to make things worse a couple of years ago we refinaced our home to make some upgrades it needed, we had a 30 year fixed, but when we went to the signing of the papers we were told at that time we had a 3 year fixed then it would go up. When we went to the company that refinanced our home they told us that in 3 years we would have the "option" to refinace with no closing cost or any out of pocket money with their company we were never told that it was an adjustable rate loan. We are so afraid that we are going to lose our home next May. God Be with our country because it's falling apart is what I pray every day. Thank you for looking in to this for us, so many citizens are crying out for help. Roanoke, VA

I am bitter that Reganomics depressed my wages while I was working, thereby also depressing my SS payments now I am retired. I am bitter that this government seems totally deaf and blind to what is happening to the middle class in this country and don't seem to understand that, without the middle class, our economic engine will grind to a halt. It is even worse that they are basically shredding the entire Constitution while they turn a blind eye to our very real problems. And even worse, the corporate media can only ask frivolous questions about flag pins instead of substantive questions about policy and these very real problems. I am trying to refinance the mortgage I have on the house I grew up in (which was paid for in full fifteen years ago) so I will have enough cash to pay my gas bill for the Chicago winter we have just finished, and don't know what I will do if I can't manage that. My godchildren's mom emigrated here from Mexico and is now a citizen. I am thinking of suggesting that my goddaughter -- who is very bright and wants to be a cardiac surgeon -- consider going to school in Cuba. In the U.S., she will finish her education approximately $500,000 in debt at today's prices. And she is 14 now so the prices will be higher in five years. Chicago, IL?

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I am a WW2 Veteran. I started pursuing the American dream by attending college under the GI Bill. After 35 years of service, I retired from a major corporation with a small pension. Counting on remaining middle class with pension and social security benefits locked in and bank savings accounts historically at 5%APY...I was looking forward to a comfortable retirement. Once fuel and food prices began to rise and bank rates dropped, I was forced to sell my home in Vermont and move to an apartment in Connecticut...my middle class status is slowly slipping away. We seniors with some money in savings,are a forgotten group. Dropping interest rates may benefit others but not us. If we can spend billions of dollars on NASA and Wars, we should be able to help middle class seniors with some sought of government CD program with at least a guaranteed minimum APY of 5%. West Haven, CT


I am a senior in high school ready to attend college. Yet there is a small problem. I am a from a normal middle class family, my dad is a pharmacist and makes decent money. My problem is I am to NORMAL!!!!!! I have average grades, and an average ACT score, so the scholarship money isn't rolling in. And because of my father's income, I am receiving absolutley nothing from the government. Now I am stuck with taking out loans with interest rates as high as 8.6% Which kind of defeats the purpose of me taking out a loan in the first place. I need a loan because I need money badly. But I am gonna have to pay outrageous monthly payments that will leave me in the whole even further. I feel very unrecognized and am really fretting how I am going to make it through college. Clyde, Kansas

--- Posted 4/22/08

First of all let me commend you for what you are doing.

Absolutely everyone in my family is living on the edge at the moment. I have one brother who is a truck driver. He, like many truckers, are being squeezed by the high fuel costs. His company is now passing many rrfees onto him such as licensing, insurance, fuel and trailer rental before he has made a single delivery. As a result it has put him thousands of dollars in the hole and two months behind on his mortgage. He is now at risk of losing his house. He is single and has two daughters. His oldest daughter suffers from mild autism. She missed I.Q. testing to qualify for SSI by ONE POINT! As a result, my bother has supported her completely. She is now 25.

My other brother is a computer programer. Last year he lost his job to India.

I have a cousin who's husband lost his job two years ago when the factory he worked for, Maytag, was shipped to Mexico.

I have a stepbrother who, with his wife, were told last month that the factory they have worked at for over 25 years will also be shipped to Mexico.

My seventy-four year old father last year, after facing bankruptcy due to a divorce, mortgaged his house. His payments are staggering for someone who is living on an annuity but cannot sell because of the depressed realestate market. I and my brothers are all chipping in to keep my father afloat. Helping my family is draining the little amount that my wife and I had tried to save for retirement. Without our savings, we will have only social security to live on when we retire.

While all of this is going on I am struck by the memory of my father-in-law. Forty years ago, he worked at a factory in Iowa and was paid well enough to raise a family of six and retire with a pension!! Imagine that!

Not everyone is born with the intellectual or monetary gifts to successfully compete. Years ago such individuals could find unskilled work that paid a living wage and give them the chance to live in dignity. Today we condemn them . Lauderdale, MN

I am probably doing pretty well in this current economy by some standards. I am a journeyman carpenter with about twelve years experience and last year I made a little over sixty thousand dollars. The trouble is that with median home prices hovering around $600,000 or more in this area I'll never be able to save enough for a down payment. Rents in this area are high and only getting worse as so many people are forced out of homeownership due to the credit crisis and so saving is very difficult. I might be able to afford something if I moved a few hours away but a)I don't want to leave the city I consider my home and b) If I moved I would be faced with either a very long commute and the exorbitant gas prices associated with it, or I could find work locally at a much cheaper rate and be stuck in the same unaffordable situation that I am already in.
What happened ?
I'm 37 years old and when I was a kid my parents were able to afford a house and insurance and everything else I took for granted at the time on only my fathers income. He was just an average mid-level manager at an insurance company. Certainly not someone you would consider wealthy by any means. What's happening to this country is disgusting to me and no one seems to pay any attention to it as long as they are fed a steady diet of "entertainment tonight"... I feel overwhelmed with the gravity of what must be done by a largely complacent society in order to regain some semblance of the principles this country was founded on.
Thank you for being one of the few public servants I truly trust to be looking out for the constituents you so ably represent. San Francisco, CA

I am a 58 years old electronic technician. I lost my last 2 jobs when factories moved operations to China and India.

I am working for a small medical electronic repair facility. My employer cannot afford to offer medical insurance to the staff.

My medical insurance costs over 50% of my take home pay. The premiums will go up 8.5% in June. At that time I will no longer be able to afford to pay the cost from my salary. I will be forced to dip into my retirement savings or borrow from my home equity. I have shopped for a more reasonable policy. I have had epilepsy since my teens, so no company will insure me at ANY cost. My current insurance carrier, Aetna HMO, was forced to cover me under the HIPPA laws, but I know that they are just waiting for me to miss a payment or offer them ANY excuse to cancel my coverage.

Senator Sanders, I have worked hard my entire life, I have saved diligently for 28 years for my retirement and carried my home mortgage for 23 years. I have had enough savings in my IRA and home equity to have retired comfortably several years ago. However, I must continue to work only so that I can buy medical insurance!

Thank you Senator Sanders for all you do.

I NEVER miss "Brunch with Bernie" on Thom Hartmann's program! Orlando, FL

Senator,
Thank you for this opportunity to allow Americans to express themselves and to share their experiences.

How has the economy affected me? Unemployment, difficulty finding decent paying permanent work with benefits, forced to relocate far away from my relatives to a state where there are jobs, lack of dental and medical insurance resulted in neglecting dental and medical care.

Rarely buying anything new (mostly secondhand), having to eat low grade meats and sub-par food because I can't afford better, can't afford to join a health club or YMCA, no vacation benefits so haven't had a vacation in many years, no sick or personal days so everytime I get sick or have to take off work, it results in smaller paychecks.

Employers rarely give raises so wages don't keep up with cost of living, high gasoline costs result in limiting driving and shorter pleasure trips, high car insurance costs make you cut expenses in other areas.

Low wages mean I can't afford a better car, can't afford to get my hair done so I cut it myself and it doesn't look so great, can't rent a nice place so embarassed to invite coworkers and friends to my home, embarassed about my low-income life so reluctant to date.

Can't afford a doctor so put off getting medical care, everyone I talk to is worried about making ends meet and about their finances. People are insecure and the economy is eroding their confidence and hope. The eroding value of the American Dollar is making everyone uncertain and scared.

Can't afford cigarettes but too stressed from finances to quit. Embarassed by my secondhand shoes. Lost the skip in my step and the joy I once had. Living hand-to-mouth makes one desperate and reduces quality of life.

Want to help my mom out who is on Social Security but can't afford to. Will probably never be able to afford to buy a house so must live with landlords dictating what I do - including I can't have a pet, and I love animals.

Worry about ending up a bag lady, worry about Social Security drying up and not having a pension or savings to live on in my old age. Its a luxury to live alone anymore. Many people I know are now sharing their homes out of financial necessity. Too far to drive to work or I'd get a bike and save on gas.

Seeing my family all worried about money, my friends too. Everyone is living in a state of financial challenge and has money worries. Can't leave garbage in dumpster - the poor go through your stuff. Afraid you'll get mugged because people are desperate. Crime has increased because of economy.

Senator, we need to increase minimum wage, to have affordable nationalized healthcare for all on a sliding fee scale, to have more free clinics and charity hospitals, to increase veterans benefits, to have more affordable housing and public housing on a sliding fee scale, more affordable childcare, stop outsourcing jobs, care more about our own country than others.

Thank you.

Buffalo, WY

--- Posted 4/9/08

I am 61 and hope to retire in 4 years but that seems unlikely. I currently work 3 part-time jobs Monday - Friday starting at 6:30 a.m. and finishing my last job at 6:00 p.m. My commute to my various jobs is 60+ miles a day requiring a fill-up every 4.5 days (if I do no other driving). Financially I am worse off than in anytime in my working life. Gasoline alone is over $200/month. Food costs have skyrocketed.

My adult son, his fiancee and her child have moved into my small condo with me. They cannot afford to pay the average $1700 rent in this area. My health insurance costs over $300 a month and covers the bear minimum. I am still paying the $2,000 co-pay incurred for surgery over 3 years ago. I get nickel and dimed every time I need lab work or x-rays and as such haven't had a mammogram in 4 years. I am in the high risk category for breast cancer because my mother died of that disease.

I have no savings and live in fear that if I am unable to work for any reason I will lose my home. It is a hand to mouth existence. What a frightening way to live.

Rohnert Park, CA


I was a design engineer with 25 years experience in hi-tec design development. My job was outsourced and I could not find a job in my field. I worked as a car salesman and now sell floor coatings. I am 60 years old, my savings is gone, my 30 year old children college educated still live with me because they are still paying their college loans and they can only get low paying jobs. We live from week to week and consider ourselves fairly lucky because there are people who are less fortunate than us.
Listening to you on the Tom Harttman show always gives me a lift because it is good to hear someone who seems like they understands what has happened to the people of the U.S. and really cares. Good on you my friend. You are a rightious man

Huntington, CA

I grew up in a middle class home, but I don't think I'll ever have my parents' standard of living, although theirs was not a fancy lifestyle.
My mom was a teacher in a union state and had great benefits and pay, as did my dad, who worked for the state.

I have either taught or worked in the non-profit helping professions since college. Meaning not great salaries! I'm still paying on my student loans, but only see it increase. Due to interest, etc., my balance is over 40K, although the original loan was for about 13,600. My payments are just going to the interest.

I work FT, have what passes for benefits/health care these days, but pay about 30% of those costs. With 2 surgeries and a blood disorder in the past two years, I still have a number of unpaid medical balances. Collectors call often, and my credit rating is in the crapper.
I do not own my home, and my car is 13 years old.
I have no retirement benefits or savings, and will probably need to work until I dropped dead, which hopefully be sooner than later.

Mills River, NC

I am 61 and have worked all my life. My husband is disabled. I am looking at having to work until I can't push my walker down the hall!

What I thought was my retirement has been spent over the last 8 years for health insurance - mine is $882 a MONTH with a $2000 deductible and my husband's supplement to SSI is $182 a month plus his Rx cover of $21.40 a month that with gas at $3.38 a gallon up here and I no longer have a savings. We've sold our small fishing boat, ATV and most of the things we thought we would have for our "golden" years!
Although we live in an area where 40 below winters are the norm - our heat is never set above 58 degrees. We never eat out and only drive when absolutely necessary. Our food budget has been cut so much that I must plan meals to make sure every dollar is well spent and there are no treats! We are terrified and I do mean that - as we try to cut more from so little!
Help us - please - stop the raping of the middle class while you help big business! What are we supposed to do? We don't have anything left and there is no relief in site!

Grand Marais, MN

Dear Senator Sanders,

Thank you so much for allowing me to tell the story of how our family is being squeezed by the current economic conditions in our country. Being from Oklahoma, I have two senators who couldn't care less if my family starved to death, so this opportunity means a lot to me.

In December of 2000, I started work for my current company at the "bottom rung of the ladder". I was changing careers yet again and the old saying "you can't start at the top" certainly applied. I have since worked my way up from a starting position, part time at 7.65 an hour, through 3 promotions and into a management position in the mid $30k a year salary range. That used to be an ok salary here in Oklahoma. Not anymore.

The rising cost of fuel, food, utilities and other necessities has turned my "ok" salary into a near poverty-level experience for my family. In addition to the above mentioned costs, I experienced a $102 per month increase in my portion of the premium for my "employer provided" family health coverage.

I don't get it. I work hard, every day. I show up on time every day, give it everything I have and never back off and somehow everything except my salary is going up at an alarming rate. My parents taught me that no matter what, if we worked hard enough and never gave up, we'd get somewhere. It seems these days, that doesn't hold true anymore.

Please encourage your colleagues in DC to do something, and hurry. I'm doing all I can and it just isn't enough.

Thank you for your time

Tulsa, OK


I am 62 and have been in the Mortgage Industry for over 30 years…currrently unemployed.
My age "has" been a factor in obtaining employment
From 2007 to now I have lost 2 jobs due to downsizing and closing.
I have worked myself into a highly trained career…but have no college education, so changing careers will lower my income….but not my debt.

(By the way I have a good story "from the inside" to tell you how this mortgage
crisis occurred over the past 7 years.)

NOW…
My health insurance is $400.00 a month
My rent went from $930.00 to $1300.00
My heating costs have been upwards over $200.00 a month
I don't have to tell you about the increase in gas and food prices.
My income has decreased from $6000/mo to unemployment ….for about 26 weeks at $2250.00/mo

THE NEXT 60 DAYS….
My savings will be depleted…
If I can not land a job I will have to move…
…..hopefully a friend or family will take me in.
I will be forced to file bankruptcy…not easy for someone with perfect credit…tell now.

I am a "rare" story, a single Mom who over 30 years ago worked myself out of Welfare and provided a good "middle class" existence for my 4 sons. Looking for work "outside the lending Industry" is next to impossible without a College Education…(even though I am a "highly trained" Mortgage Professional) and keep the income level that is commensurate with my debt….I looked into retraining…but do not have the living expense income to take advantage of that, being as I am a single person…Thank God I do not have a mortgage.

RESUME PROVIDED UPON REQUEST!
I HAVE EXCELLENT REFERANCES!

Kirkland, WA

Dear Senator Sanders,

I heard you this morning on the Thom Hartmann program while driving into work, and I wanted to contribute a few words to your discussion.

I am a 26-year-old college graduate with a master's degree in mechanical engineering. I have been working for two years as an engineer in the Portland, OR metropolitan area, and though I consider my compensation for my job to be appropriate for my level of education and expertise (about 60k/year), I am still struggling to make ends meet in this economy.

Despite the fact that my home mortgage payment has remained stable, I am finding that the average price of energy and commodities has increased such that I can no longer afford to contribute to my 401(k) retirement plan, and I am living month-to-month with only about $200 in savings. I pay about $300 for gasoline, $200 for heat, $100 for electricity and about $400 for food (round numbers) every month. This is fully TWICE as much as I was paying for the same expenses just two short years ago. Ouch!

My situation is ironic and a bit frustrating. Whereas I now make over four times what I made as a graduate student, I live with the same quality of life as I did in college. I cannot afford vacations or extravagant purchases, and I am burdened as so may people are these days with a persistent worry about getting sick or injured and stuck with a medical bill that I cannot afford.

I realize that I am NOBODY SPECIAL in terms of how hard I work or how much I pay for food and gas or how "sad" my story is, and THAT is why I write to you. I am moved by the stories of how these middle-class families are surviving, and I can sympathize with them in terms of some of the financial worry they are experiencing. If it is hard for me, it must be incredibly difficult for them.

Thank you for your time, and thank you for your service as US Senator, and thank you for providing a forum like this. Keep up the good work.

Sincerely,

Gladstone, OR

I was raised in extreme poverty. My mom has a 9th grade education and my father dropped out in 6th grade. My brother, 3 years my senior, dropped out of high school in 1996, the year I graduated.
I never new a house; we grew up in one and two bedroom apartments. I also never knew I was raised in poverty until adulthood--when I tried to transcend this state of economic marginalization.

I was the first of my family to graduate high school. Four years later I entered junior college; transferred to a private four-year institution and earned both an undergraduate and graduate degree. I also earned $70,000 in student loan debt. At that point, I had never earned more than $7k in my life.

Three years after college, I purchased my first home. You guessed it - my loan was predatory and was one of those ARMs. This was the first home ever purchased in the Ryan family. As you know, to truly gain a firm stance in the middle-class, one must own property.

I earned $50k in 1997, more money than I've ever known. Yet I still have to charge my groceries or medications. My ARM matured and my mortgage raised $300 over night. The first home in my family is likely to go back to the bank and I'm falling short of the finish line to the race out of poverty.

I'm now in credit card debt just to buy the essentials and my student loan debt haunts me most days of my life.

I feel disillusioned by the 'American Dream and the American Middle Class.' If you graduate, if you go to college, if you... then you will rise above the poverty line. Let me tell you Mr. Sanders, I feel more impoverished today than I ever have. Why? Because when I was poor, I didn't have nearly $100k of debt; essentially making me indentured to my country. That isn't freedom.

For a while I thought I must have failed. No sir. It is by design that I experience what I am experiencing while the top 1% grows wealthier by leaps and bounds. The system of disadvantage for my social class is well woven into the fabric of society. I am afraid until we begin to vote in our own best interest, the American Middle Class will be a footnote in history and something I may only get to taste for a moment.

Portland, OR

Major industry has moved away from our area, there are a few low paying jobs. Those that pay well, work their people excessive hours. I had worked in the health care industry for 15 years, but got laid off 2 years ago. My husband, had been a trucker. He would leave Sunday night and maybe return on Saturday. All those hours and he might bring home $600.00 to $800.00. It would cost at least $200.00 to 'live' on the road. He got laid off last month.

We are now living on $247.00 a week. We have no health insurance, no life insurance. As long as neither one of us gets sick or hurt and nothing breaks down we may make it until one of us finds work. Trying to eat fresh fruits and vegetables is part of our plan to stay healthy, but with costs rising so quickly, I don't know how long we can continue to buy fresh produce.

My middle daughter is a single mother of 2 in the Northern Georgia mountains. She works 3 jobs, lives in a basement apartment with 3 windows and a sink that won't drain. She has a few years of college and has run a few businesses. She is not stupid or lazy. For all her hard work, she is so exhausted that she can barely care for or enjoy her family. They have no health or life insurance, drive an old car that breaks down frequently and live from paycheck to paycheck. Their luxury is playing soccer.

I think it is time we re-examined that "bottom line". Is it really only money that matters??

Thanks for letting me sound off.....

McMinnville, TN


I am a single mother with a yearly salary of less than 30,000.00 . Currently I am looking for a second job. I am 1 month behind in my car payment, supporting two teenage sons(one getting ready to go to college) I live from paycheck to paycheck. Each time I try to apply for any type of assistance I am always told that I make too much. How can we as Americans support our families when the government makes it so hard to apply for any type of assistance. With gas, food, mortgage, utilities is that even possible.

Columbus, OH

Senator Sanders,

I wanted to share with you how the economy is currently affecting my family. We are a family with one child. We have been struggling ever since I left my tech job at a large software company in 2006. I had great medical benefits (no copays, prescription costs, etc), but the amount of hours I worked (>60 hours, paid for 40 - Salary Wage Earner) caused me to miss out on about 3 years of my daughter's life. I decided to leave and try to find something comparable so I could work a normal work week and get paid for every hour I worked. What I found was the pay was the same, but the benefits were lacking. We now go through my wife's medical insurance with the best plan available and it's still a very poor benefits plan. We pay over $700 per month in premiums, $10 co-pays through the hospital she works at, $20 co-pays outside of the hospital she works at, over $300 per month in prescription costs and many instances of us paying 20% of the cost. People often ask since my wife works in the medical profession, why she isn't covered 100%...I have no idea about why that is.
The gas prices have also hit us very hard. Since there are no tech jobs where I live, I have to commute 35 miles each way everyday. My wife also has to commute 20 miles each way 4 days a week. We both have 2007 Toyota Corolla's, so the gas mileage is good, but the cost at the pump is killing us. I spend $45.00 every week on gas and my wife spends about half that. We used to pay half as much for gas over a year ago.
I have also noticed an increase in the prices for groceries which I am sure is directly related to the increase in fuel costs. We used to be able to buy more food with the same amount of money, but we are now finding it harder to purchase as much food.

I think the single biggest failure in our country is that we are tied to our jobs by the benefits we receive. I almost feel like an indentured servant working at a job I may dislike over time, but afraid to leave because of the benefits. I hope you can read most of what I have said here and hope that information like this is spread about in a larger forum.

Thank you for your time and dedication to working class people.

Marysville, WA

Dear Senator Sanders:
First of all I want to thank you for your interest in the lower and middle income families in this country who are suffering.

I am 55 years old and clean homes for a living. I am divorced and work 6-7 days a week-10 to 14 hours a day trying to make ends meet.

I have a private insurance plan with Regence Blue Cross Of Oregon. March 1st, 2008 my insurance premium was raised to $449.00 with a $2500.00 deductible. My previous premium was $248.00 with a $2500.00 deductible. This is more than I can afford but when I look at the Blue Cross charts I see that in another 4 years I will be paying over $1000.00 a month for the same premium. They have raised my premium-co-payments and what I pay for RX drug! I will soon not be able to afford insurance unless the government go to a single payer health care system.

I drive to get to my jobs and my fuel costs have more than doubled. I use to spend $60.00 a month for fuel and now it is closer to $300.00.

Food has gone up along with NW Natural Gas Bills and electric bills! I keep my heat at 65 degrees and it's cold! My bills are still around $180.00 in the winter for gas and $120.00 or more for electric and I live alone!

Something has got to be done.

Property taxes are going up at a rate more than I can afford and soon I will be priced out of my home!

States with sales tax are allowing companies like Wal-Mart to keep the taxes on sales! (I just found this out by reading the book-Free Lunch) Why are we allowing corporations tax breaks that take away from our city roads-libraries-schools and other social programs?

I listen to you every Friday on 620 am in Portland, Oregon.

You are a great senator and hopefully you will hear our cries and send help very soon. We are all sinking fast!

I have worked all my life very hard for what I have and now I feel I could lose it.

Thank you,


Vancouver, WA


Both my husband and I have faced significant pay cuts the last year. We feel grateful to still have jobs, however. Many of our friends our age have no jobs and have been out of work for many months with no prospects in sight.

We have 3 children and live in the high-cost San Francisco Bay Area, where we were born. A combined income of $100,000-$150,000 doesn't go very far at all here when a very modest townhouse costs almost $600,000 and everything else is proportionately more expensive. (The difference in the cost of living across the country is never taken into account by politicians planning tax breaks and should be...)

Our oldest daughter completed 2 years in Ameri-Corps after graduating from the University of Vermont where she got a Bachelor's degree in environmental science and conservation biology. Some of her student loans were forgiven by Ameri-Corps, but not many. Now she works for an environmental consulting firm in Boston but her wages are so low she can barely support herself and we are still paying $350 per month on her student loans that remain. We will owe $350 a month on those loans for the next 30 years - she has close to $70,000 left to pay off.

My husband is almost 61 and I am 52. We have nothing saved for retirement. One small IRA we have will be cashed out this year to pay for a new roof on our townhouse. We can barely meet our mortgage payments, property taxes and pay our bills. We live month to month.

Over the past year we have cut out many "extras" we used to consider necessities. My husband felt extremely guilty running up a charge card to buy much needed clothes for himself for work. He had not bought clothes for himself in about 5 years.

Our home is now worth less than the loans we have on it.
There is no money to replace our old rug (or even have it professionally shampooed), no money to fix our broken clothes dryer, no money to repair our bathroom sink, no money to take even a modest vacation for a few days. The list goes on and on.

We no longer have what we once considered a middle-class standard of living. Now we are nearing retirement years realizing we will have to work (if we have jobs) until we die. How could we ever exist on Social Security alone in this area? It would be impossible since we will not have our home even close to paid off.

I have never felt so despondent about the state of our life and our family's prospects for the future. We have slid down the economic ladder one rung at a time. I used to believe if we worked hard enough we would be rewarded for our work - but no longer believe that. We are working harder than ever and now make far less money. I see no improvement in our financial well-being in the future whatsoever.

I am beyond anger. I have no more tears. I only have two questions that no one seems to be able to answer. Is everyone in Washington so far removed from the plight of our country's middle class that they cannot see what we are going through? Or do they see and simply not care?

Alameda, CA

I am not from Vermont but I heard you on Thom Hartmann and he said to e-mail you!

My husband and I are both self-employed so we have to pay out of pocket for ALL of our benefits without the same tax benefits then a larger company would enjoy for the same expenses.

Last year we paid almost $10,000 in Health Insurance Premiums and Health costs. I really feel like we are working for the health insurance companies than we are for ourselves. We are putting off having a child because we have no idea how we would pay a monthly health insurance premium of $1400 a month. That amount would be more than our rent. We too make too much to qualify for a state plan, in fact the Schip program was meant for people like us.

On top of that our insurance is lousy and we are hassled every time we use it. We have to get on the phone and fight to get every bill paid.

It is a shame and a disgrace.

New York, NY


I would like to comment on the "squeeze." I am experiencing the situation by getting laid off now for 3 months. I have applied with several organizations for a professional position & have been told they are interested but to wait. I did not have a savings to begin with, due to student loan debt over 50,000. I have a master's degree but don't own a house. Finally, got my credit to good standing but with the layoff, that's going to sink quickly. Luckily, I don't have any kids but I help support & care of my diabetic mother because she get a small social security check. It's tough all around. I only spend money on necessity and stop spending on recreation activities.
I know you aren't going to here from everyone but I will say, probably 80% of the people I know, are struggling too. I could keep writing but I will stop here

Tempe, AZ


My husband and I are retired and live on a limited income. Our 45 year old son has had to move back in with us because he cannot find a job. He has been looking for over a year. He has credit card debt which he cannot pay and the companies have sued him. This bad debt hurts his chances of ever getting a job. It is a vicious circle. So our rebate of $1,200 will go to help pay for his bankruptcy.

Bandon, OR

I live in Virginia, but I heard you on Air America and wanted to tell my story as I feel our current government turns a deaf ear to the struggling.

I am self employed after losing a union job with benefits, so now I have my own health insurance costing $350 a month with a $5,000 deductible, and no coverage on pre-existing conditions. I have a '95 Saturn that gets 32 mpg, but it's hard to afford driving after paying my propane winter heating bill even with setting the thermostat at 62 degrees and buying anything wool from Goodwill. This past week, I re-injured my knee (not covered) and will seek medical attention praying it isn't serious; although the fluid build-up has doubled it's size and the pain is severe.
I dread getting the mail and the bills inside or opening the fridge looking for what I can scratch together.
I'm neither lazy nor a whiner, and I thank you for listening.

Louisa, VA

My husband and I are middle-aged and bouncing around from job to job. Luckily, he just got hired to drive a municipal bus.

We have two close friends who have lost their homes to forclosure. One of them has filled our basement with his belongings.

I recently quit a job in credit card collections for a local bank because I couldn't handle talking to customer after customer with their tragic financial stories. One customer in California was a real estate salesman who had not sold a house in months. Another California customer was an out of work construction worker. Another was an elderly man, recently widowed, who was saddled with a mountain of hospital bills from his deceased wife. Another customer had been seriously ill and had to move in with her mother because she couldn't afford to pay rent. These customers weren't deadbeats. How were these people going to pay their overdue credit card bills when they weren't sure how to afford food? I found myself counseling them to apply for foodstamps and call the Salvation Army. Unfortunately, the food banks are short on food.</

Portland, OR

When thinking about America's Middle Class, I realize that I am one of the lucky ones. But I also realize that all it takes these days is one loss of a job, or one large medical expense to put us in a very bad situation. Living in the Middle Class, one word comes to mind: fear.
I was in college during the dot com boom and it seemed that a job in the tech industry would be a safe and sure thing. I worked a part time job as my parents were unable to help me out financially, but made too much money for me to qualify for grants or additional assistance. I ended up using my credit card to live off of some months when money was tight and graduated college with about $20,000 in student loans and $10,000 in credit card debt.
My girlfriend has been making close to minimum wage working as a veterinary technician with little or no health insurance. About half of my current salary goes straight to paying off debt. I've done consolidation loans and tried shuffling my debt around more times than I can count and am making very little headway.. When money runs out, I frequently end up putting common expenses, guess where, on the credit card! But that being said, I still realize we are very fortunate. I can't even imagine what life is like in a family where someone has already lost their job, has had a serious medical problem, or has children to provide for. More and more people are being squeezed out of the Middle Class every day and the rules need to change. Thank you for giving people like us a voice.

Monongahela, PA


Senator Sanders,
After many years of working for other people,my husband and I both became self-employed; he as a one-man plumbing and heating contractor; me as a freelance paralegal and software trainer.. We didn't get rich, but we made our house payment, put a daughter through college and had some fun traveling in our RV.

By 2004, we were really feeling the pinch. We just couldn't seem to keep up, much less get anywhere ahead. We paid our taxes, my husband kept his licenses and liability insurance current; but health care insurance became a problem. We had never been without insurance, most recently, we had been insured through the local Chamber of Commerce. However, the premiums kept going up at an alarming rate and, finally, my husband made a decision to drop our coverage thinking that he would get good work, work harder and we'd catch up. But, he didn't tell me because he knew it would worry me excessively, to say the least.

One day, when I had a doctor's appointment that he knew would not be covered because we didn't have insurance, he broke down crying and told me about our situation. As he had predicted, I couldn't sleep and was CONSTANTLY worried that something would happen. Both my husband and I were 59 years old at that time. In fact, during that time, we had one of the worst, most hurtful arguments we'd had in our 39 years of marriage.

We hung on and loved each other. In September, 2004 my husband had a very, very severe heart attack. We had no knowledge of any problem before this . . . he was always a big, strong, healthy man.

Our hospital bill was $37,000+. There was no way we could pay that bill, so in February, 2005 we met with a bankrupcy attorney and, with more shame than you can imagine, filed for bankruptcy.

Meanwhile, I went looking for a job that offered health insurance with the same hospital where my husband's cardiologist practiced so he would have continuity of care.

I now pay more than $700.00 A MONTH for health insurance through my employer because I can only work 20 hrs a week. I am now 62 years old and will have to work, even if I have to crawl, until I'm 65 because of health insurance. I work totally for insurance. I bring home $166.00 every two weeks for working 40 hours. My chances of getting a better job are nil because of my disability.

Before we declared bankruptcy, my husband refinanced our mortgage because the bank was threatening us on a business line of credit he'd gotten in arrears over. We had to pay $10,000 with one week's notice. So, we panicked and my husband found this company willing to refinance for us. You guessed it, it was an ARM and our house payment have gone from $886.00 per month to $1,296.00 a month.

We're both 62 now and we really don't know if we'll be able to hold onto the house we've lived in for 35 years.

So, please tell me, in this "home of the brave and land of the free" what's so GOLDEN about the GOLDEN YEARS??

Sincerely,
(no location given)

My middle class life style is on its deathbed. I will be laid off from the University in a few months after a 23 year career as a researcher. If I can not find a job locally or sell my house in the next few months, my only option will be to tap into my 403b account - if there is any money left in the account I opened 18 years ago.

My biggest extravagance is my satellite TV service. I drive a 1998 Hyundai Sonata and live in a modest 2 bdrm, 1bath home with a mortgage which is still significantly less than the market value of the house. I do not eat out, go to malls, purchase fancy tech stuff, or in general do any shopping outside Home Depot and the grocery store.


After taxes, medicare, social security, a modest $100 a month toward my 403b, and medical insurance premiums, my net salary is 33% less than the gross salary once it is deposited in my checking account. Once I account for my relatively low mortgage payment ($1300 a month, a 30 yr fixed), car insurance, utility bills, food and gas, I am typically left with less than 15% of my total salary for debt payments, clothes, medical co-payments, prescriptions, pet care, house repairs, car repairs, etc. Truthfully, what I have left does not cover all of those expenses.

My only hope right now is to sell my house, move to a rental and begin to live at the same standard of living that I had as a graduate student. It can be done and probably will be - if I can sell my home. If I can not sell my home, I will probably eventually be looking at foreclosure and walking away from my home.

I just hope that I don't end up under a bridge, homeless. I already realize that I won't have health insurance. Even if I can find a job, it may or may not come with health insurance coverage. At my age and with my pre-existing conditions, I can not find private insurance even if I could afford it. So the truth is that there is a high likelihood that I will end up in poverty. Perhaps I'll be happier once I reach bottom and no longer worry about getting there.

Miami, Fl


My husband (a scientific researcher here at the University of California)and I (a real estate agent) are each facing drastic reductions in income - he because funding for research has dried up and I because of the drop in the number of home sales and values. This is all happening at the same time our 2 boys have just hit college age. Fees for college are going up and classes are being cut due to budget cuts.

After having done everything right for many years we don't know how we'll get through the next 5 years let alone ever reach retirement (for which we have saved prodigiously). When I say we've done everything right I mean we shop for clothes in thrift stores as much as possible, never did get cable tv, just upgraded from our 20 year old tv (just for a few examples). We only travel by air when we get free flights from the use of our credit card. We live a pretty no-frills life.

Sure, there's more to cut, but once my husband finally loses his job completely we will be without health insurance (and my husband has an old health challenge that costs hundreds per month in supplies alone).

What will we do?

I'm grateful you're thinking about this, too. Thank you Bernie,

Davis, CA