Monday, August 22, 2016

August 22, 2016--Don't Know Much About Algebra

For many, college resumes today. Including for the daughter of our friend Sarah who is a freshman at the University of Maine, Augusta.

She's splendid. This past summer, between high school graduation and her first day at UMA, she was one of three incoming students to be selected to spend the summer in Costa Rica, living with a local family and working as a medical assistant in a hospital in San Jose.

The college was so impressed by what they were hearing about her that they upped her scholarship by a few hundred dollars and asked her to take the lead in beginning a student EMS program at the campus in Augusta.

This should be a sweet time for Alexa, but it is turning into a time of trial.

First, she, as all students, is required to have medical insurance. For middle--middle-class kids this should be no problem--they would be covered by their parents' policy.

The problem is that Sarah is a single mom, works three part-time jobs, and has no employer-provided coverage. In the aggregate, her jobs yield slightly more in income than would qualify her for the subsides provided by the Affordable Care Act, Obamacare.

"The least expensive policy I could get that would also cover Alexa is $385 a month."

"Wow," Rona sad, "That's more than $4,500 annually."

"To be precise, $4,620. With a $5,000 a year deductible. They call that affordable?" Sarah sputtered, "Give me a break. And I voted for him two times. Obama. Why, I'll never know. But I'm a liberal. I suppose that's why. So now what am I going to do about Alexa? Get another job? I'm already working seven days a week."

"What are you going to do?" I asked.

"Good question. See if I can borrow some money from my mother. Not that she has much. Or maybe Alexa will take out a student loan. I hate for her to have to do that. Saddle her with tens of thousands in debt when there probably won't be that many good jobs when she graduates."

"Sad but probably true," I said, "But she sounds special and will probably do just fine."

"It's all about the probablies."

To shift the subject somewhat to something more positive, Rona said, "I'll bet she's excited. She's off to such a good start even though she is just starting."

"She is excited, but good kid that she is the money issues are getting in the way of her feeling positive about beginning college. She's talking about taking a year off, deferring her admission and working to save up enough money to help out with all the costs."

"A lot of young people are doing that. Look at Obama's daughter, Malia, isn't she taking a year off?"

"With all due respect, we're not talking about the same thing. His daughter . . . "

"Touché," I said, "Sorry."

"Not a problem," Sarah assured me, "I know you're trying to be empathetic. But there's one more thing. Something really outrageous."

"What's that?" Rona asked.


"They're still using textbooks?" I said. "I would think with the Internet they would be more and more obsolete."

"Not as long as they can make money selling them."

"I know they can be ridiculously expensive."

"Take a guess," Sarah said, "She needs one for Biology and another for her required arts elective, the History of Music."

"When I used to teach, they could be as much as $50 dollars each," I said.

Sarah smiled and gestured that they cost more than that.

"Seventy-five dollars?" Rona guessed.

"I'll save you the trouble,"Sarah said, "You're not even close. It's three hundred for the music text and . . ."

"You've got to be kidding," Rona interrupted.

"I wish I was. And, even more outrageous, the biology book is $400."

"So just two books run $700. I'm staggered. How corrupt this feels."

"That's the right word for it, 'corrupt.' Is it any wonder that people in America are angry? I mean modest hard-working people."

"No surprise at all, I said, "We're fortunate to be financially secure and don't have kids in college but what you're saying makes me furious."

"This helps explain some of the Trump people," Sarah said. "Not the crazies or the bigots, but, frankly, people like me. I'm working my butt off; have no child support from Alexa's father; I'm a feminist--in the way I live, not just in the way I talk--and I'm not a fascist. As I said, I'm pretty progressive. But things have gotten to the ridiculous stage and out of frustration, if Trump wasn't such a jerk--and worse--I can't tell you I wouldn't be thinking about voting for him."

"I think I understand that," Rona said.

"Things need radical change and I'm feeling that voting for Hillary, who I can't stand, would not be voting for someone who'll make things better. She's cut from the same cloth as all the other professional politicians. More concerned about themselves. Don't really get me and people like me. They mouth the words but it's just words to get us to vote for them. Trust them. I did that eight years ago and then again four years later. But what did Obama do that was good for people like me? Including with his famous Obamacare. Again, for people like me, it turns out to be a scam."

"Well . . ." I started to say.

"I know, I may be overstating things. But have you ever worked seven days a week? I'm not meaning to give you a hard time, but I've been doing that now, all on my feet, for more than three years."

"Well . . ." I started to say.

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