Not That You Asked

In this season of indulgence many don’t have enough

A guy I know got fired not long ago after nearly six months on the job and nary a whimper of a complaint about his performance.
As I understand it, he was told that management just wanted to make a change, and it was no reflection on the high quality of his work. He was, as they say, just one shift in managerial point of view away from the street.
Funny, though, as it turns out, he’d been waiting the requisite period — six months — for his health benefits to take effect and, wouldn’t you know it, they were to kick in the day after he got canned.
Recent reports about the financial health of the people of San Diego County make it pretty clear that thousands here do not earn enough to make ends meet, even when they work full time.
This occurs even as nearly half the income generated in the county ends up in the bank accounts of only a fifth of the households, while the bottom fifth in income divides up only 4 percent of the whole big pie.
The reports are generated from the Center for Policy Initiatives, which vets reams of census data on a regular basis to develop a snapshot of how we’re coping. One report issued in September, Making Ends Meet, done along with the United Way, came up with this:
— Three in 10 households in the county with people of working age, or some 230,000 households, don’t earn enough to pay for the basic cost of living.
— In 88 percent of them, at least one person is working; in half of them, that worker has a full-time job. Thirty-six percent of the households are couples with children.
The center factored in San Diego County costs for food, transportation, housing, utilities, telephone, child care, health care and basic goods such as shoes to determine what has to be earned to cover basic needs. For a single person, it turned out to be $27,733 and for a family of three, $52,560.
And when you think, “Wait, the fall for those who cannot make it will be cushioned by the marvelous latticework known as the social safety net,” think again. Would that it were true but, according to the center, more than half of those who are not making ends meet still earn too much to qualify for programs such as food stamps. Their incomes exceed the federal poverty level of $11,161 for a single adult. So a San Diegan working full time at the $8 hourly minimum wage pulls in $16,896 a year, about $5,700 above the poverty line. That full-time worker, then, still earns some $10,000 a year less than what’s needed to pay what the center calculates as the “true costs” of living here. The so-called self-sufficiency standard pegs monthly costs for housing and utilities for a single person at $1,117 and food at $234. For a couple with an infant, it is $1,355 for the housing and $563 for food. All of this assumes that nobody has cable TV, nobody puts a dime away in savings, and the employer pays a major portion of the cost of health insurance.
I hesitate to bring any of this up now right before Thanksgiving, mindful of the indigestion caused by Edward R. Murrow’s “Harvest of Shame,” a TV expose aired this time of year several eons ago showing how farm workers endured cruel and callous treatment even as they stooped to pick the food that we would feast upon at our groaning holiday tables. But are the blessings we count to be hoarded? Can we spread some around? It may just be a theory, but can we live more richly with less? At this time of year, when we give thanks for the incredible bounty that surrounds so many of us in our beautiful corner of the universe, do we become more blessed by turning our attention to those struggling so in the midst of all these riches?