Harbinger of Doom
- Oct 23, 2001
The crisis of middle-class America
By Edward Luce
Published: July 30 2010 17:04 | Last updated: July 30 2010 17:04
The Freemans Mark and Connie Freeman live in north-west Minneapolis. They have a joint income from several jobs of $70,000. Last year they fought off repossession
Technically speaking, Mark Freeman should count himself among the luckiest people on the planet. The 52-year-old lives with his family on a tree-lined street in his own home in the heart of the wealthiest country in the world. When he is hungry, he eats. When it gets hot, he turns on the air-conditioning. When he wants to look something up, he surfs the internet. One of the songs he likes to sing when he hosts a weekly karaoke evening is Johnny Cashs Man in Black.
Yet somehow things dont feel so good any more. Last year the bank tried to repossess the Freemans home even though they were only three months in arrears. Their son, Andy, was recently knocked off his mothers health insurance and only painfully reinstated for a large fee. And, much like the boarded-up houses that signal Americas epidemic of foreclosures, the drug dealings and shootings that were once remote from their neighbourhood are edging ever closer, a block at a time.
What is most troubling about the Freemans is how typical they are. Neither Mark nor Connie his indefatigable wife, who is as chubby as he is gaunt suffer any chronic medical conditions. Both have jobs at the local Methodist Hospital, he as a warehouse receiver and distributor, she as an anaesthesia supply technician. At $70,000 a year, their joint gross income is more than a third higher than the median US household.
Once upon a time this was called the American Dream. Nowadays it might be called Americas Fitful Reverie. Indeed, Mark spends large monthly sums renting a machine to treat his sleep apnea, which gives him insomnia. If we lost our jobs, we would have about three weeks of savings to draw on before we hit the bone, says Mark, who is sitting on his patio keeping an eye on the street and swigging from a bottle of Miller Lite. We work day and night and try to save for our retirement. But we are never more than a pay check or two from the streets.