Monday, August 29, 2005

TAKE, TAKE, TAKE



I just got a letter from Citibank informing me that the minimal payment for the loans I'm taking out for NYU's School of Social Work will wind up costing me approximately, if not more, $483.00 a month. That means, hypothetically, if I was to pay back the money I’m borrowing one month at a time, over a span of the next 15 years, I would owe, at the very least, a check for close to five hundred dollars every thirty days. That's $17.00 a day coming out of my pocket and going straight to Citibank for the 54,750 days following my graduation.

I have my orientation in two days but I'm torn and conflicted. On the one hand, I’m eager about doing something socially redeeming, embarking on a potentially rewarding career path (certainly not financially) but the loans make the decision so much more difficult. I am a week away from the beginning of school, and after completing the applications, the essays, the loan forms, the questionnaires, etc., I am almost prepared to give it all up. I know that I've spoken about the cost before but it still boggles the mind that an institution training you for the duty of serving the community could ask for so much from people who will inevitably have so little.

Welcome to the stressful existence of the middle-class. While searching on the Internet for scholarships, I come across funding for single-moms, for Russian immigrants, for the truly destitute but I don’t see scholarships for those who do not fit under the term "desperate." Which is unfortunate because these days, I feel like every financial institution is taking advantage of the middle class.

In this past week’s New Yorker writer Malcolm Gladwell writes about the 45 million people in America who don’t have health insurance. Gladwell tells us that these are the poor people spread throughout the United States who can’t afford to see a doctor to treat a broken bone, or who can’t muster the funds to visit a dentist (so instead, many do their own "dental work"). In truth, Gladwell need not go to such an extreme to make his point. I pay close to $500 a month for health insurance (and thank God, I rarely have to use it). My "Freedom" plan does not cover dental so if I were to have a toothache, I would have to pay for my appointment in full. I haven’t been the dentist in nearly two years, not out of choice, but because of the cost. While I'm certainly not poor, there are many other things I could spend my money on. So, Gladwell is correct in assigning an absurdity to the status of health insurance in this country but he's wrong in assuming that it's only a problem for the poor. The health insurance problem is not only a source of stress for the lower-class citizens but for the middle-class, as well.

Additionally, in this weekend's New York Times, there was an investigative report on cell phone companies and their ever-increasing hidden charges. A company like MCI charges a "paper bill" which essentially is a $0.99 fee for using...er, paper. The general overall tone of the article was that cell phone companies will continue to take advantage because no one can properly fight back and unfortunately, the FCC cannot do much to regulate these charges. In the meantime, we have to pay and shut up. There's nothing you can do.

There's a general feeling that we are being taken advantage in this country. With every day that we age comes the brutal reality that nothing gets cheaper and the cost of living leaves everyone below the highest income bracket drowning in debt and anxiety. Gas prices rise to the satisfaction of the gas industry (who are probably all connected to President Bush in some regard). Health insurance costs continue to rise--mine alone has gone up over the past two years by an exhorbatant amount. Why is that? And even more worrisome is that they don't need our business. Drop your coverage--see if they care.
And once again, there are assuredley politicians would rather not bother taking on these super powers because they probably see some kickback from the perpetuation of these high rates.

Ideally, I want to do something more redeeming and gratifying but when you consider a cell phone bill, rent, the price of gas for the car that's hardly used, the price of an health insurance package, tuition ...adding all this together with the impending and overwhelming loan for Social Work school, no less, where there's no guarantee that I'll be able to meet my minimal payments...Well, what is there to do besides head to the kitchen and look for a very stiff drink?

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