Being less than solidly middle class with access to good quality health care that you can actually afford is bad for your health. No really it is. So many of us take it for granted that we will live a nice long life, that we now see the 50’s and 60’s as young, funny thing is that view is often a middle class perspective that is not a universal truth and most certainly not for many folks in the working class. In working class land, jobs that require physical labor are often the norm so much so that you want to retire by your late 50’s because no matter what lies we tell ourselves a body in its late 50’s is not the same as a body in its 20’s.
Case in point, my father in law, he is the last of that generation where being working class wasn’t a dirty word. Nope, he served in the military, used the GI Bill to go to trade school and became a union electrician who was able to earn a solid wage that in many ways has helped to advance his family out of the working class. The Spousal Unit and I joke that my father in law paid to send his only kid, my hubby; to a big name school but my hubby will never earn close to what my father in law’s earnings were. That’s not an exaggeration that is truth. Yet my father in law who often spent his days climbing poles by his mid 50’s was worn out physically from years of physically demanding work. So in his late 50’s he cashed out and retired and now lives in the southwest spending his days hiking and golfing. My father in law was one of the lucky ones, most working class folks these days don’t retire to solid pensions and savings, instead you work until your body gives out then you die. It’s a truth that many poor and working class folks understand hence when a beloved family member gets sick and dies at a seemingly young age we are not shocked. It’s just the way it is.
Fact is struggling to survive day in and day out takes a toll on you both physically and mentally, figuring out how to rob Peter to pay Paul to keep the lights on, rent paid, food on the table and maybe do something a little frivolous for your kids is hard work. Time to unwind, relax and rejuvenate, those are often privileges reserved for those who are little higher up on the economic food chain. Instead we (some may find my use of the word we off-putting but I will most likely always consider myself working class) get our relief in whatever form that we can and sometimes it’s not healthy. Too much tasty but unhealthy food, too many butts, maybe even too many drinks. Simple accessible vices of relaxation for those who struggle to keep their head above water will often in many cases help exacerbate things and lead to an early earthly departure.
Let’s not forget that in the United States even access to health care is almost solely based on what you can afford. What this means is when you are middle class and above you often have a decent employer sponsored health care plan and can afford the co-payments for specialists, etc. Want to delve into alternative health care so that you can deal with your stress, its do-able. Try that shit when you are working class and it’s not going to happen. I remember a few years ago I was having back issues and really didn’t like what my then primary care physician was suggesting, so I tried a chiropractor. I didn’t have insurance that covered the tab but I was able to pay out of pocket for a second until the suggested treatment plan involved three visits a week and at $60 a pop for 3 months…had to let that go. I was fortunate in that I was able to get a few adjustments but many can’t even afford that.
One of the things I am struck by in my work is that so many of the families and clients I deal with are weary; it’s a bone weariness that causes people to age and age fast. I can’t tell you how many people I know who are younger than me but look so much older. Sometimes it’s hard living, but in many cases its life. It’s the fact that things are not taken care of, like dental care. Dental care is one of those tricky issues in that many people regardless of class don’t have dental insurance yet when you are on more solid economic footing you can afford out of pocket treatment costs. Yet when you are struggling to survive its easy to put it off and for many that will lead to loss of teeth, I think of this often as I have been dealing with my own dental issues and the startling reminder that both my parents by age 40 had dentures. My Pops has a full set and my Mom had a partial. I am knocking on 40’s door and still need several thousands of dollars in work but I am determined to keep my teeth. Another reminder for me of how I live in multiple spaces with a foot in many worlds.
This is part of my continuing series on the working class and poverty, I would love to host a guest blogger to write about these issues so if you are interested, let me know.