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let's do the math
living in lala land
by lucy lediaev
6.27.08
news

You are a worker in the City of Los Angeles. You earn California's minimum wage of $8.00 per hour (higher than the federal minimum wage of $6.55 per hour). You work 40 hours per week, giving you a gross income of $320 per week. That gives you an annual gross income of $16,640, or $1380 per month. Let’s assume you pay 30% (or $416) of your income in taxes each month. Your take-home pay is about $964.00 per month. Average rent for a 1-bedroom apartment in Los Angeles is $1352--for a 2-bedroom apartment, over $1600. Now, it’s clear that you’ll have to find a roommate or, if you have a family, share with another family. To lower the cost of rent, you’ll need to find an apartment in one of the least desirable areas of the city.

Assuming you get your share of the rent down to $700, you will have only $264 for utilities, food, clothing, transportation, health costs, and incidentals. If you have children, you’ll have child care costs while you are working. You currently are paying around $4.60 for gasoline, because you shop for the lowest prices. You have an old clunker of a car that gets about 15 miles per gallon; you can’t afford a newer compact or hybrid. You have a 30 mile round trip to work (a low number of miles for Los Angeles), so you use 4 gallons of gas per day, totaling $18.40 per day or $92.00 per week.

Not only is the price of gasoline beyond your reach, food prices have gone up by almost 50%. You do you not have enough money to pay for gas to take you to work, and you can’t afford to feed yourself, much less a family.

So, what do you do? You can try public transit, assuming buses or trains will take you where you want to go. However, there are still vast areas of Los Angeles County where public transportation is inadequate or non-existent. In addition, you’ll still pay a minimum of $2.50 per day or $12.50 per week to ride the bus. You can drop your car insurance at the risk of losing your license and potentially your car, but you can't afford to drive anyway. You can take a second job, but it, too, will pay minimum wage, and you can only manage to work in an additional 10 to 20 hours per week. And, you have to find transportation to work. Perhaps, you'll need to pay for child care.

Every day in the mail, you receive offers for credit cards with an initially low interest rate. You may jump at the chance to use credit to provide for basic necessities. But, you may not read the fine print, and the first time you are an hour late making the minimum payment on your card at the end of the 20-day grace period, your interest rate jumps to almost 30%. Now, not only do you have insufficient money to pay for basics, you can’t pay off your credit cards.

At a certain point, it occurs to you that you really can’t afford to work. After you pay for transportation, including auto insurance and gasoline, buy appropriate work clothing, pay your rent, feed yourself and your family, you are further behind every month. You are truly a member of the working poor, and no matter what you do, you can’t make ends meet. You think about getting a higher paying job, but you’d need additional education or training (and education is costly and time consuming) to qualify for jobs that require more skills. Finally, you have a choice: you declare bankruptcy or shed your job and apply for welfare.

Not only are the working poor in dire trouble in our current economy, so are seniors and the disabled who are on fixed pensions, workman’s compensation, or disability incomes. As prices for everything increase, their incomes remain the same. So-called cost-of-living increases have little impact on the increasing costs for housing, transportation, and food.

I am fortunate enough to have a good job. Nonetheless, I’ve felt the impact of increasing costs. I have less disposable income than before. In addition, I’ve had to help my elderly aunt, who is on a fixed pension, more than ever before. I’ve been paying for a large grocery order at least once a month, and foresee that I may have to help further. My friend is doing the same thing for his 88-year-old mother, who lives on a spouse pension from her teacher husband. This is a time when I should be saving more, because I am close to retirement age. My friend is already retired. In both cases, we are tapping monies that should be used for our own retirements.

I don’t know a viable solution to the current economic situation in the U.S.; the situation is multi-layered and complex. Global fossil fuel consumption is outpacing production. The corn crop is being used not only for human consumption and animal feed, it is being turned into ethanol to supplement fossil fuels. The recent flooding in the Midwest has had a negative impact on wheat, corn, and soy bean crops; this has increased the price of cereal products, corn sweeteners and other corn products, soy and lecithin, and animal feed--resulting in an overall increase in the cost of food, including dairy and meat products. Many people believe that speculators in both the food and fuel commodities markets are artificially raising the price of fossil fuel and food products.

Interestingly, China recently took unprecedented action and froze the price of oil. The U.S. government could freeze the prices of various commodities, including fossil fuel, but the current administration is unlikely to take such radical steps.

Right now, we are in the odd situation of being in both a recession, in terms of earnings and unemployment, and inflation, when it comes to food and fuel commodities. I suspect that it is going to take a new administration a lot of time and effort to sort things out and to even recommend a new course for our national economy. And, given that we really live in a worldwide economy, I have questions about the efficacy of unilateral changes by this or any other government.


ABOUT LUCY LEDIAEV

A freelance writer and full-time grandma, Lucy Lediaev retired recently from a position as web master, tech writer, and copy writer in a biotech firm. She is enjoying retirment more than she ever dreamed and is now writing about topics that are, for the most part, interesting and fun. She also has time to pursue some of her long-time interests, such as crafts, reading, sewing, baking, cooking, and the like.

more about lucy lediaev

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COMMENTS

robert melos
7.4.08 @ 6:55a

I hadn't commented earlier, but I think this column deserves acknowledgement. I don't live in California. I work in real estate in New Jersey, and while the focus of the column is California's economy I have experienced the exact things written of here in New Jersey.

Aside from my person experience with the devastating economy I witness it daily in my work. House values have dropped across central New Jersey by as much as 25% in some cases, and for the many people who either purchased a home prior to July 2007 or refinanced prior to that date taking at least 80% of the equity out of their houses this puts them in negative value situations.

The still slumping economy doesn't help the situation. Home buyers are out there looking for the bargains, the foreclosure deals. The vultures, as I call them, offer as much as $100K less than listing price in hopes of getting a deal. The banks aren't always taking the offers, but occasionally one will come down drastically, which then brings down the values of all the houses in the area.

It is true, as stated here in this column, that many people are finding it cheaper to give up, not work and eventually lose their homes.

Today I had a man tell me he'd rather burn his house down than lose it to the bank. This isn't the first time I've heard this. I don't know if he would or wouldn't do such a thing, but the fact an elderly man faced with such a loss is driven to such a thought shows me that the economy is in terrible shape and the government is doing nothing to help anyone.

Granted there are many reasons people have gotten into their financial troubles, and some of those reasons were greed based. Many weren't greed based. Having the added pressure of record gas prices eating away at paychecks, is tearing apart the fabric of the country. People who don't live in areas with good mass transit, or who need to use a car for work, are among those hardest hit.

I've heard real estate and economic horror stories from all across the country, and don't hear any solution other than to have a rise in the rate of homeless people. It would be great to hear the government would step in and help bail out the millions of people in danger of losing everything, but the reality is that the government, current and future, can't do anything to stop the disaster. The govern doesn't seem to care, and if the next set of politicians do care it won't make a difference because the current government has trashed our economy and country.



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