$577 a Month

The Social Security Administration recently informed me that I’ve earned enough “credits” for my child to receive $577 per month in benefits “if you die this year.”

Five hundred and seventy-seven dollars a month. It’s funny. I used to get exactly that on welfare: A young broke single mom with her sweet fat baby. Five hundred and seventy seven dollars. But that was a long time ago–before Newt explained to me about “personal responsibility;” before my 21-year-old-self was blamed for everything from economic decline to the moral decay of Western Civilization; before Clinton signed the welfare reform bill while getting a blowjob from an intern; before Bush Jr. ever stole the White House; before my sweet fat baby morphed into a teenager.

Five hundred and seventy-seven dollars a month. Was it enough? Of course not. But it was something—my safety-net, my meager entitlement—it was rent or utilities or food, take your pick. Five hundred and seventy-seven dollars a month: Now I’d have to die to get it.

When my middle class friends started receiving their $400 tax credits in the mail (supposed to make them turn a blind eye to the $350 billion tax giveaway Bush Jr. handed the wealthiest Americans), I waited by my mailbox.

Mine was a working family, was it not? Oh? But, no? It seems that although I’ve been working at least 40 hours a week and earning income ever since I got out of school and got off welfare, I, like hundreds of thousands of low-paid military personnel, didn’t earn quite enough income to qualify mine as a “working family.”

Why I ever entertained the fantasy that Bush would send me $400, I can’t really explain. Maybe it’s the same naivete that made me imagine I could treat my daughter to an American public school education and not expect military recruiters to meet her at the door when she entered middle school. Naivete because, alas, buried deep in the “No Child Left Behind Act”—W’s education law passed in 2001–is a provision requiring all public secondary schools to provide military recruiters not only with access to facilities, but with contact information for every student.

So at the tender age of eleven, and despite my specific protests, my girl-child came home from school with a “U.S. Navy” Frisbee and an attitude that said, “Mom, you just don’t understand what these nice people want to do for kids.”

These nice people and their five hundred and seventy seven dollars a month.

If I didn’t know better, I could listen to their rhetoric on TV and beyond, and imagine that the main transfer of resources in this country were from rich to poor rather than the other way around. We nanny their children. We pay their mortgages with our rent checks. We till their fields. And when they offer us $577 a month, they act as if they are giving us some grand gift. When we demand it, they say we are suffering from “a sense of entitlement.”

“You haven’t really worked,” they say.

So, if not working, what exactly have I been doing these past thirty-three years to earn these meager “credits” from Social Security?

Well, besides having a 14-year-old daughter who I have to protect from Uncle Sam and the United States Supreme Court on a daily basis–a girl-child who grew up on welfare and food stamps but who nonetheless is apparently healthy enough to fight for the government who never, ever took it upon themselves to fight for her–I teach high school. Yep. I work with the folks Education Secretary Rod Paige recently referred to as “a terrorist organization.” (And here you thought you’d have to do more than instruct kids on the art of metaphor to be labeled an enemy combatant).

Apparently, Rod was kidding.

Not kidding was the baby-faced student who walked into my senior creative writing workshop a day later and announced that he couldn’t wait to get home and tell his Mama that she wouldn’t have to pay his college tuition after all.

“How’s that?” I piped up, imagining for a moment that my gifted writer of a student had gotten a full scholarship from the Rotary Club or the United Negro College Fund.

“I’ve joined the Army!” he beamed. “My mom’s been working her butt off all her life for me, but now I’m taking responsibility for my own education!”

My baby-faced student–one of just a handful who I thought truly understood the concept of “metaphor.”

“Why you trippin’?” he stammered as he watched my face fall.

The following week, he showed up with a crew cut. And he never wrote me another metaphor.

It’s almost enough to make you start rooting for the draft. At least then the children of the corporate criminals who are profiting from this war without end might have to go, too.

But when I turn on my television who’s the corporate criminal going to prison? It’s the single mom and housewife extraordinaire—Martha Stewart—who will pay for a thousand illegal stock trades; for a thousand atrocious sweat shops. The mother. The housewife. The woman so uppity as to think she was entitled to more than $577 a month.