Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The Bag Lady

After my last post on retirement, I had that exchange with my husband again, the one where he says, "The finances really are all right, you don't need to worry about the money." Except, of course, that I do worry. I don't obsess over it, but I think over purchases more carefully than I did when I had a salary, and I look for bargains.

I think this is a female thing, and it has to do with the 77 cents on the dollar
that women make (according to the National Committee on Pay Equity in 2006), as opposed to men. I've been married (and bringing in a good salary) for 22 years, and we've built a solid retirement fund; but before that I was single for 10 years, and I wasn't making anything like enough money to fund a reasonable retirement, even when I could put anything away. I was a professional woman, too, with an advanced degree in my field; but the field was library work, which isn't an area that generates the astronomical salaries that, say, investment bankers get. Or even computer programmers; in fact, that's one of the reasons I changed careers and went into data processing. I could make more money there; and I did.

I will bet that every woman who's ever had to earn a living on her own has this niggly little voice somewhere in the back of her mind - not always very far back, either. I call it "the Bag Lady" - it pipes up and says, "You're going to run out of money. You'll be old and sick and broke, and you'll have to push what's left of your belongings down the street in a shopping cart." I have to deal with the Bag Lady every time I make a big purchase - I bought a digital camera recently, and I had to stifle her to do it.

I really don't obsess over this much. But it's there, in the back of my mind, and I regularly have to shove it down and latch the lid. Because it is true, especially after 7 years of neoconservatives in charge and twenty years of globalization, that what used to be a fairly reasonable safety net has more holes than a pair of fishnet stockings; in this day and age, if you haven't saved it up yourself, you're out of luck. I may have gotten this from my parents, who lived through the original Depression, before there was any safety net at all.

FDR built the New Deal on the principle that we're all in this together, and in a country this rich it's ridiculous to let people starve just because of misfortune. That's always seemed to me to be a reasonable approach; I don't understand why the neocons don't get it. Maybe they don't think that "There but for the grace of God, go I" applies to them.

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