An organization called “Winning the Issues” surveyed registered voters not long ago. Unsurprisingly, when asked which political and social issues they found most urgent, these voters indicated that porn stars and Russian trolls ranked quite low indeed. The top issues, consistently, were jobs and the economy, gridlock in D.C. and — you guessed it — the rising cost of living in America. It outranked concern over immigration, guns, North Korea and even climate change.
Yes, it is that bad. Nevertheless, the outrageous cost of living in America can be tough to see if you were born into the relative luxury of refrigerator door ice-makers, reliably potable water and indoor climate control.
Nevertheless, the crushing cost of living in America is on the rise — both in reality and in the minds of disenchanted voters. Whether politicians are interested in addressing the problems causing this, now that it resembles a humanitarian and moral crisis — and the solutions they come up with to do so — are fast becoming the “sleeper issue” of the 2018 election season.
How Americans Are Suffering Under the High Cost of Living
For some of the reasons we’ve name already and many more, the gap between those with much and those who are barely getting by can be hard to detect. And yet, many of us got a wake-up call when, for example, Trump and Republicans threatened to throw CHIP recipients under the bus to score cheap political points.
Many of our friends and neighbors — 36 million of them — rely on CHIP to keep their basic healthcare needs and the needs of their families met. Some of these people are Trump supporters who didn’t expect policymaking in Washington to have any real-world consequences for them back home.
But that’s the whole point of political pageantry like porn star tell-alls, partisan bickering and late-night tweet storms. We aren’t meant to believe our vote counts for much. All the while, Americans’ lives have been getting more expensive and harder to live — and even increasingly shorter — compared to other industrialized countries.
Most Americans would be financially ruined, or at least be put in debt, by an unexpected $500 expense.
In some years, hundreds of thousands of Americans declare bankruptcy because they can’t pay their medical bills. Other years, that number has been as high as one million.
Housing prices are skyrocketing — a Harvard University study found that nearly 39 million Americans can’t afford their homes. And yet most Americans also struggle to pay rent — and 40 hours per week at the minimum wage isn’t enough to afford a decent apartment anywhere in the country.
The average monthly rent for very simple, run-of-the-mill spaces to habitate in has risen enormously. In very populous areas like New York City, it can shoot up as high as $3,000 or more a month for a basic one- or two-bedroom apartment. In most states, you’d have to make $15 or more per hour to afford rent on a two-bedroom apartment without breaking your budget.
The point is, while we’re all distracted by shenanigans and politicking, actual policy-making over the years and the inexplicable conservative slant among otherwise left-leaning American voters, our lives have been getting harder and harder to live. Even necessities like healthcare, decent housing, childcare, healthful food, gasoline, electricity and more have been getting progressively more expensive.
Hoping — and Voting — for a Better Life
The fact that the American cost of living is spiraling out of control — and the fact that most voters place this phenomenon at the top of their political to-do list — means there’s a huge difference between the national priorities according to talking heads and Congressmen and priorities according to American voters.
According to real voters, we need common-sense legislation to protect working, unemployed, underemployed and otherwise down-on-their-luck Americans from the parasites who work to maintain the illusion of scarcity, the illusion of a lack of good-paying and relatively future-proof jobs and the illusion that asking billionaires and corporations to pay their fair share of taxes is the ticket to economic ruin.
An apparent majority of Americans have no illusions about the system being designed to work against them in the first place — nor that moneyed interests now directly imperil the democratic process. The year 2018 marks another possible tipping point for “partisan power” in Washington — whatever that means these days — and another opportunity for voters to shift the political conversation in a productive direction.
So, where do we go from here, and what do we look for on ballots in November? If the cost of living has emerged as a clear and present danger to American lives and livelihoods, here’s a political checklist as we move further into campaign season in anticipation of the 2018 mid-term elections.
Either because they’ve made their fortune already or because they believe supply-side economics actually works, many in the current Republican Party are turning prosperity and opportunity into exclusive, zero-sum games.
We’ve already seen the GOP’s plans for gutting rent assistance for the poor. It’s time to hold ourselves collectively accountable for how we treat the less fortunate instead of looking down on them and using them as political scapegoats.
And then there’s the Democratic Party. Many Democrats, though still embarrassingly few, are singling-out practical solutions for helping curb the unsustainable cost of living in the U.S. At the voting booths, look for politicians — probably Democrats or Independents — who favor Medicare-for-All, real tax reform that asks the wildly successful to pull their weight, and creating jobs programs to get the unemployed back to work in future-friendly industries.
But if a Democrat can’t describe his or her political ethos without using the word “Trump” or “impeachment,” it means they’re a part of the McResistance, and they have no real intention of addressing any of the underlying problems in America. Namely: the unforgivable and ever-worsening inequality of income and opportunity.
We’re All on the Same Team
Republicans control government right now. Believe it or not, we all want what they claim to want: a true American meritocracy. But that only works if everybody who lives in this country has, with an acceptable margin for error, most of the same opportunities when they start out in life. Keeping people desperate for necessities and indentured to jobs they hate just to stay alive is cruel.
It’s fundamentally Darwinian, but they don’t want to teach that concept in schools anymore either. I guess now we know why.