Something About Me You Don’t Know
Last night I watched the Daily Show with Jon Stewart. His guest was J.K. Rowling. She was there to discuss her new book, The Casual Vacancy. While discussing the book, Ms. Rowling revealed that while she was writing Harry Potter, she was on welfare and one step from homelessness. Welfare saved her and she was grateful. And to show her gratitude, she has maintained her residence in the U.K., a country with some of the highest tax rates in the world, and unlike many of Britain’s wealthy who flee to tax havens like Monaco, has stayed and pays her taxes.
The thing you don’t know about me is that my family was also on welfare. In 1971, Boeing, the largest employer in the Northwest, almost went belly up. They laid off almost all of their workforce, including my father. The financial hardship proved too much for a marriage that was already on shaky ground, and my folks split. That left my mother, a German immigrant, with six children to feed, a mortgage, and no job. My mother had no work history in this country. The best job she could find was working at a deli for minimum wage (under a buck an hour). She used to smuggle home scraps to feed us. What we didn’t know at the time was that even with welfare, she couldn’t pay the mortgage and our house went into foreclosure. We were slowly going under. One of the biggest lies perpetuated is that welfare recipients living high on the hog and driving Cadillacs. The only way that could happen is fraud, because as J.K. Rowling put it, welfare is barely one step up from homelessness – I know, I’ve been there.
My mother worked hard and eventually got off welfare. By the time I moved away from home, she had worked her way up to the very bottom rung of middle class. And she continued elevating her situation right up to the day she retired, a much easier task once her children had left the nest.
I myself have never been on government assistance. I was able to parlay the brief leg up the government gave my mother into the American dream, and I am forever indebted and grateful – grateful for the people that paid their taxes and made it possible. Their tax money saved us and provided me an education in public schools with text books and reasonable class sizes. Their tax money subsidized a college education by making tuition rates affordable. Without tax money subsidizing tuition, every college would have tuition rates equal to private colleges (tuition at Stanford is about $42,000 a year), and a college education would be beyond most of the middle class. So I gladly pay my taxes, paying forward the gift that was given to me. And I vote “yes” on school levies.
Mitt Romney seems to think the American Dream is turning daddy’s millions into billions and then hiding the money off-shore so he can avoid taxes. But what he seems to have forgotten is that like J.K. Rowling and my mom, Romney’s father George was on welfare for a while. And like J.K. Rowling and my mother, he was able to pull himself up and off the welfare rolls to become a productive member of our society and a success story. I will never understand those who attempt to demonize welfare, who try to reduce their taxes by pulling the rug out from under the poor and elderly. I don’t condemn those who already have so much for wanting more, just for wanting more at the expense of the poor, only for not wanting to pay their fair share like those who came before them and paved the way. To me, the American dream is being able to rise from the despair of poverty and welfare to provide a middle class lifestyle for your children. To me the American Dream is being able to comfortably retire knowing the money you paid into Social Security over a lifetime of work will be there for you, and that you will have medical insurance.
Because of all that has been done for me, I do not lobby for lower taxes or tax loopholes to protect my money. I am ready and willing to pay my taxes to give a leg up to the next generation, and to repay the gift the previous generation gave me. Call me crazy.