Editor’s note: Nelson’s “In it for the Money” opinion column appears regularly in The Chronicle, roughly around the third Wednesday of the month. Sometimes, like this month, he’ll deviate from that schedule and write two columns in one month. FYI, Nelson has a story in the latest issue of “Asimov’s” (which hits newsstands this week). It’s your basic crappy-jobs/labor-relations/time-travel tale – possibly of interest to speculative Chronicle readers.
Last week I insisted you write some letters.
This week I’m urging you to once again take to the keyboard but, after that, I promise: You’ll be free of my nagging until 2013 – at which time we’ll all be sailing together over the “fiscal cliff,” which is sort of an economic Doomsday Device that will automatically cut federal spending and bump up taxes on Jan. 1, 2013 unless Congress pulls together a workable budget.
According to the President, if Congress does nothing, then middle class families will see a tax bump of as much as $2,200. He’s encouraging folks to drop him a line explaining what $2,000 means in your household budget.
Below the fold is what I wrote to the President (and forwarded to my congressfolk).
Dear Mr. President (et. al),
I’m writing at your urging to explain what $2,000 means to me. After running a few numbers, I was shocked to learn that it means roughly $17,000 to me and my family.
Listen: I’m a married freelance writer and editor with two kids – or, in GOP terms, I operate a small business as a sole proprietor, am a member of several LLCs, file jointly, and have two dependents. One of these is school age, and thus leaches off the publicly funded socialist education system.
The other is a baby. She’s the problem. Childcare is expensive. It costs no less than $10 per hour for someone to hold, feed, and diaper my new baby while I furiously drink tea and pound on the keyboard. In a year, that $2,000 translates to roughly 200 hours of childcare – or one work-day per week (my workdays are pretty short – remember, I’ve got a baby to care for).
Because my business is project based, it’s hard to pin down an hourly rate for my work, but it likely floats somewhere around $75 per hour. (This is below my quoted rate, but reflects the fact that more than a few projects end up being more complicated than one might have first imagined. If I think something will take me 20 hours and it takes 25 instead, I eat the difference.) Assuming my $75-per-hour is accurate, 200 hours of work translates to another $15,000 of gross income. Right now I’m fortunate that my problem is too few hours, not too little work. Having another $2,000 in my budget would mean seeing some – if not all – of the added $15,000. I would then turn around and spend $3,000 of that on the installation of a liner that I just learned my root-choked sewer line desperately, desperately needs. I saw the video of the inside of this pipe, Mr. President. The situation … it’s not good down there, sir.
Added bonus: My $2K would mean one more day per week of employment for our sitter, an underemployed college student. This is a perfect example of how tax policy can fuel economic growth: I’m not a “job creator” (the GOP euphemism for a millionaire, regardless of how many jobs he creates); I’m an actual job creator: You give me money, and I dole it back out to the butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker, the plumber, the sitter, and the goddamned mortgage servicer.
Give me more money, and I dole more of it out to these folks – Hell, give me enough money, and I’ll have contractors out here replacing our collapsing garage and crumbling patio, trimming back the sickly old oak that wants to crush our house, and re-grouting our bathroom before the walls and floor completely rot out. There’s no end to the jobs I can create with my $2K. And trust me, sir, not a penny of that $2K will get socked away in a Cayman account, sunk into a private-equity hedge fund, or even saved in a tax-deferred IRA. It’s basically all going to go right back into buying goods and services right here in the community where I live.
But, of course, no one is talking about giving me even one extra dollar – they’re talking about not taking away dollars I currently have. What the fiscal cliff really means to me is gutting my household budget, by pulling another $2,000 out of it. This likely means cutting back the sitter – after all, what else can I cut? I can’t choose to pay $166 less on the mortgage every month, and I can’t choose for my family to eat 25% less food. We already don’t have cable TV, I already bike or ride the bus instead of driving, and when we drive we already drive a fuel-efficient hybrid (which, thank God, we own outright).
Cutting 200 working hours from my schedule means leaving $15,000 on the table. By hitting us for another $2,000 in taxes, Congress nearly cuts my earnings in half. It means hoping the sewer pipe doesn’t collapse. It means no wiggle room to add anything, to buy anything, to hire anyone.
And then, of course, I have to actually pay that $2,000 on top of not earning the $15,000 – so there we sit, $17,000 in the hole.
I’m not whinging, sir. I’m answering your question. I’m telling you what my $2K means to me, to my family. If, in the end, you all decide that this is what the nation needs from me – a check for $2,000 written to the treasury on April 15 instead of $15,000 doled out to other middle class citizens over the course of the year – then that’s where the ball lies, and I’ll play it.
But I want to be clear that I agree with Robert Reich on this one: No deal is better than a stupid deal. Don’t rush something through to avert the scary, scary fiscal cliff. I’m talking to three Michiganders and a fella who cut his teeth in Chicago: I know that you know how to be hard. So play hard ball now.
Don’t save me $2,000 by cutting a deal that guts education or sends my neighbors to the food bank.
All for the Best in this Best of All Possible Worlds,
David Erik Nelson
P.S. I hope you don’t mind, sir, but I’ve forwarded this to my representative – John Dingell – and Senators Levin and Stabenow. If you haven’t had a chance yet, I hope you all take two minutes and 30 seconds to watch Mr. Reich’s video, and heed his eight-point advice to you.
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