by Mark Scheinbaum
American Reporter Correspondent
Panama City, Panama
November 1, 2008
PANAMA: INITIAL COOPER DUCK REACTION
BRADENTON, Fla., Oct. 28, 2008 -- Take this guy: His wife works at McDonald's, pulling down $180 a week on $7.50 an hour, and he makes a solid $15 an hour and brings home $600 a week before taxes. That $2,960 is enough to let them borrow plenty - on a home mortgage, on an F-150, a boat trailer and a snappy-looking outboard, for a family vacation with her parents, for athletic gear and special training for the older two kids. And best of all, their cinder-block 3-bedroom home that cost $132,000 in 2003 has soared in a hot market to nearly $180,000.
He's 42 now, in fine health, and his wife at 37 is still pretty and young. They are really pretty happy - God has been kind to them, and they thank Him fervently every Sunday morning and Wednesday night at the community church three blocks down the street. The elementary school is just a block or two further, and if it's not the greatest in the world, it's nowhere near as bad as the ones across town.
And by God, for better or worse, they're Republicans. The believe in and love this country with all their hearts, and even a snicker during the Pledge will get that impish younger one a gentle whack. President Bush may bnot be the brightest penny in the cookie jar, but he's President and you've got to follow him. It's all about respect - for him, for Bush, for the country, for his neighbor, his God and his American Dream.
I don't even want to tell this story. I have nothing against this guy. For me, he's the salt of the earth, the guy God made this planet for; the guy that built this country in war and peace, who never hurt anyone except that kid that punched him in grammar school. And frankly, without him, and millions like him, we don't have a country; without him, we have a parking space for our carcasses until we die.
He owns some shares of the supermarket where he works in his retirement account, a simple 401-K that's been growing steadily for 13 years. He has about $42,000 there now, and it's been as safe a cinder-block home in high wind. He's already supervisor of the forklift guys in the warehouse. It's all there for him - home, family, community, country. Party, not so much. He wasn't raised ror politics.
Around 2006, though, things began to change. The housing boom that bucked up his home has bucked up his property taxes by $400 a year, too. With everything else tied down, he's had to borrow half of the $,800 bill. That same year, the company cut back his health plan a little, mostly upping the deductible and narrowing the coverage a little. That's cost him $500 he didn't expect to spend because his wife's last pregnancy failed. Everybody is talking about the hot real estate market, but he notices a neighbor or two have not been able to sell at what looks like a top.
He got through the year without any major strains. Some of the credit cards upped their interest rates six or seven points, which rankled him because they didn't give any reason. And he noticed on his free credit report that a single late payment on his Washington Mutual card had not only cost him $35, but the bank had also raised the 22 percent rate to 34.69 percent. There didn't seem to be any reason for that!
By 2007, the talk about a bubble in the real estate m,arket began to take on the trappings of reality. There were now eight homes for sale in the space of three blocks in what had been his lovely, stable neuighborhood. And one of those whoms was now rented to a family that had too many kids for it, and several of those kids didn't seem to be very nice at all. Sure enough, the housing prices started to slide, and some people got out almost $15,000 below the $190,000 top. After church on Wednesday night, he and his neighbors talked about it. It made you worry. And the new bank that had paid them $100 to start a new account when they took out the mortgage in 2003 is starting to pop up in the newspapers.
Comes November and he forgets to vote, although his wife does. What's going on here? The value of his 401-K has fallen to $38,000. The value of his home has fallen $20,000 - and taxes are the same as they were last year! There's still some profit in it, but several of those original eight houses for sale still haven't sold, and now there's three or four more For Sale signs blossoming like ugly weeds on in his own neighbor's front yard. And he won't talk about it.
Early in 2008, the full press is on. His credit card rates have soared after he missed a few more payments. His wife found a lump in her breast, and that's not over yet. His 401-K is at $36, 000 but it looks like it'll hold. Forget selling the house and buying cheaper - the market has vanished. In fact, if he did sell, he'd be lucky to pay off his mortgage with the proceeds - he'd make maybe $10.000. That was February and March. It got damned cold, too, and the heating oil went through the roof. Then the gasoline thing hit. He noticed the deliveries at the supermarket begin to slow down. Then an article in the newspaper said the company was going to sell some stores and close others - no details.
There were cutbacks in June, layoffs, foreclosures everywhere now. He could count six neighbors who'd lost their homes, and a few more who'd lost their jobs and their homes. A few couples were missing on Wednesday nights, casualties of the financial stress. Come August, he opened the newspaper and found out he was going to lose his job. He got to work that day and the manager of his store called everyone into the break room in small groups of 10 or 12. It was over; the store was closing down, and his job was going with it. Unfortunately, the company's stock had fallen rather dramatically in a big one-day decline that came out of the blue. His 401-K was at $24,000.
When he got home that day, it was at $22,000.
He now owed $11,000 more than he'd paid for the house. he could cash out the 401-K and take a hefty penalty, but maybe he could find another job. His wife was steady at McDonald's; no problem there except the breast; she was still undergoing tests and McDonald's wouldn't pay for it. His insurance would cover him for a while, they said at the closing-down meeting, but he'd better find another job. There weren't any in the paper, not in this state. Unemployment locally was climbing to seven percent. And he canceled the newspaper, right in the middle of the ALCS playoffs.
Now it's October. One of every five homes in the neighborhood has been foreclosed upon, and his bank has been taken over by the government. His health benefits have run out and his unemployment is in its last two weeks. His 401-K is worth $12,000. He hasn't found work. They took the truck. He sold the boat for nothing - guy didn't want the trailer. His older kid is smoking pot and scaring his younger brother and the two younger girls. His wife's car is still running, but just barely. There;s been morning when they didn't have enough eggs and milk and cold cereal to feed all the kids - can you imagine that? Is this America?
Well, he cashes out of the 401-K. They take $1,000 for fees. He makes two back mortgage payments at the higher rates. He pays off two of the credit cards. He's got $6,000, four kids, a home he couldn't give away, property taxes he can't even dream of paying. And it looks like they are going to make a n-gger President. And the government has suddenly given away 2.2 trillion bucks - that's 7,300 bucks for every single American - to banks and insurance companies he never heard of. For what? He can't figure it out. Default credit swaps? What does that mean? On Wednesday night, he prays. Dear God, why have you abandoned me? Isn't that what Christ said on the cross? And he tells his beloved, a little tearfully, they say the worst is yet to come; I guess we can forget about Christmas.
That's where the story stands now.