Home Virginia Politics Paycheck to Paycheck: Katrina’s Hurricane

Paycheck to Paycheck: Katrina’s Hurricane

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Home photo Paycheck_4_zps3dd25d52.jpgThe bigotry of the 21st Century is born of contempt for the unfortunate. “I’ve made it and so can they.” This self-centered perspective is at the root of our political decay and is a clarion call to many tea partiers. …The Life and Times of Katrina Gilbert destroys that refrain.

Maria Shriver and HBO have teamed up to provide a powerful depiction of life in an accelerating downward spiral fueled by an economic culture of baksheesh, which to an extent is enabled by complexity worship. More on those in a moment. This documentary is available to non-subscribers through an arrangement with The Shriver Report. But it appears that this is only for a limited time, so I implore you to view it as soon as possible.

Katrina works full-time at more than two dollars above minimum wage as a caregiver at a nursing home. Her ex-husband is a recovering addict who struggles to find work so he can help support their three children. Katrina regularly finds that, as another member of the DPVA Central Committee puts it, she has a lot of month left at the end of her money. There is a moment or two during the story when the impact of the recent reduction in SNAP subtly hits home with the impact of a meteor.

In the many turns in the tale we watch her hard-earned income being eroded. Sometimes the result of her own poor decisions, but many times and more significantly by economic leeches: a car title lender (yes, Dick Saslaw), a commercial tax preparer, and, sadly, a health care business model that punishes through arbitrary penalty those without health insurance.  

Katrina being mom photo Paycheck_2_zps31aca50b.jpgBaksheesh is a term of Arabic origin and in its most innocuous use, it is simply a tip. It is generally 10%. There are some endeavors that are made so onerous by local custom that you are willing to pay a baksheesh man. Believe it or not, rather than go to the bank in Damascus to cash a subsistence check, United Nations employees gladly give up 10% to avoid facing the complex process of cashing a check. There can be more stamps required than the Soviet proletariat ever faced. Since the check is in local currency, the 10% man is the only realistic option; all part of the cultural economic stimulus program. But the connotation is deeply darker. It has washed over the business culture overseas where it is common to pay “facilitators,” well-connected indigenous businessmen and even government officials, a “finder’s fee.”

So we find Katrina expressing her gratitude to legally sanctioned baksheesh men whose business ethics are marginally better than the scum featured in Carol Hazard’s Richmond Times Dispatch story last Sunday. With my sincere apologies to the vast majority of doctors and nurses (excepting those who become administrators), your profession has been hijacked.

Katrina deals with the “kind” car title lender who “accepts” her partial payment like he’s doing her a favor. There is the tax preparer who fails to tell her she can avoid tax preparation fees (probably in the range of $300) through the services of the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program. Consider that when Katrina opts out of a medical care referral later. Yes, the health care that she might be able to afford if the fees weren’t discriminatory. Have you ever compared the costs of care, procedures, and prescriptions paid by individuals as opposed to “adjusted rates” for insurance reimbursements?

Life is complicated enough without added complexity. The tax code and health care billing are two examples of processes that are ridiculously complex. Katrina has an option to overcome the complexity of tax law through VITA. Nowhere can she go to fight the complexity of health care; she falls into the Medicaid gap created in states that have failed to expand coverage.

Katrina at Work photo Paycheck_1_zpsfb4fb6ea.jpg

The back story is also disturbing for anyone familiar with exploitation of the elderly. Katrina and her fellow caregivers are the best hope for any glimmer of light among the elderly they care for. Regrettably, too often, the vulnerable are the only shield for the vulnerable. I am tempted to go off on a tangent here about the opportunity for exploitation Katrina and all care-givers have when they influence the elderly whose capacities are slipping away; that another time. The temptation when you have to feed your children or support something else that owns you is ever present as is the opportunity. It is just life.

The criticism of “entitlement” programs emanating from the right completely ignores the hard-working poor. The new bigotry is focused against the poor. Those who scream about family values worry most about the value of their own family’s fortunes. The loudest mouthed “Christian traditionalists” would never recognize Jesus incarnate. They’d be well served to listen to Katrina’s story. I suspect that somewhere in there if they opened their minds, they’d see the manifestation of the message to which they pretend to adhere.

  • True Blue

    Thanks for posting.  This should be required viewing for all citizens and especially elected officials who decry that working poor just want “entitlements,” or scream “get a job” or “pull yourself up by the bootstraps” in Ayn Rand fashion.

    Statistics provided extra impact as well as Katrina’s 14 cent raise after two years.

  • Demosthenes

    I watched this when it aired about a week ago. In the same way that Barbara Ehrenreich put a human face on working for minimum wage in her book, Nickel and Dimed, Paycheck to Paycheck is a must see for anyone who believes that hard work should be fairly rewarded. Moreover, it shows just how important social programs like SNAP and the EITC are to the welfare (as in, keeping everyone in the family ALIVE) of poor folks across the country.