Falling into the broad category of “my readers offer much better advice than I do,” here is another of the many compassionate, intelligent responses I got to the column on Linda. It comes from Dianne Duncan:

I just had to respond to Linda’s predicament because 25 years ago, I was exactly in her shoes. I was a single mom, 2 kids, no child support (he was wacky, dangerous, and lost jobs regularly), and worked full time in a job that paid so little, I qualified for food stamps. I was a high school graduate with one year of community college.

How I got out of the poverty situation:

1. With the help of a boyfriend who babysat in the evenings, I went back to community college and took electronics classes.

2. I was able to transfer (because of those classes) into a (male dominated) craft job that gave me a 50% increase in my pay. (I also put up with a lot of harassment – this was the early 70’s.)

3. I married my boyfriend who paid off the rest of my debts.

4. I continued in the craft field, two years later transferring to a top craft job that paid over twice what I had been earning as a clerk.

I am now retired, drawing my own pension. I will have my own social security check, and am now teaching technical classes, working 5 or 6 days a month and earning more than what I used to earn working full time. I am continuing to add to my IRA because I am scared to death to ever be in that situation again.

My heart goes out to Linda. I was a little bit smart, and very lucky. I do have some suggestions:

1. Don’t be too proud to accept any help you qualify for. You deserve it, and so do your kids.

2. Look carefully at what you do for a living. What else could you do that might pay more?

3. Don’t listen to people who discourage you. Yes, you need to be realistic, but I have seen so many people get jobs they didn’t qualify for and then learn how to do those jobs.

4. A job that pays less, but offers benefits might be worth the difference.

5. Can your kids qualify for Medicare coverage? My son works full time, but has no medical. My grandkids are covered (thank God) through Medicare.

6. Are there medical or dental schools nearby you can go to? They charge little to nothing, you have to go several times, but often the care you get is superior to that of a private practitioner.

7. Do you have any resources (family or close friends) in other parts of the country that offer more in the way of jobs, transportation, and services? (I’m NOT suggesting that you up and just move, just try to consider options you might not have considered.)

8. Look carefully at the interest rate you are paying on the credit cards. If you are paying 18% and have a good credit record, you are paying way, way too much. Also track each month the exact dollar amount you pay in interest. The card companies do not want you to look at that very hard. You should be able to negotiate a lower interest rate. Call the company and tell them you are thinking of switching to another company because of the rate. Tell them you deserve a better rate and ask if they are willing to lower their rate. If you do switch, close out the old card.

9. Talk to your medical provider. Explain your situation and don’t be proud. Doctors charge various rates to various people. My husband had surgery last year and asked the doctor what his fee was. They had a long discussion and it turns out the doctor’s rate varied depending on whether the person had insurance, was well off, or very poor. The difference was more than half.

Good luck to you. It does get better.

And then there was the fellow who wondered how come, if times were so tough for Linda, she could afford a computer to get on the Internet. But that’s what I found so especially compelling about her message. She’s not poor or starving; she makes almost double the minimum wage – and yet what a struggle it is. Her credit record is excellent, but she can never quite get ahead of the game. (On $18,000, how could she?) She’s been trying for 11 years, and she’s tired. Bully for her that she found a way to get a computer and on the Internet – both for her and as a way to give her kids that all-important chance to grow up computer-literate. Bully for President Clinton that one of the first things he did on taking office was raise my taxes and institute the earned-income credit for the working poor, like Linda. In her case, it might have provided just enough to buy a computer for herself and the kids, and to stay online.

(If you know people who work, but who file no tax forms because they think no tax is due, tell them they should file anyway. If they have a child and income under about $25,000 – or two kids and income under $30,000 – they may get a check from Uncle Sam.)

I don’t like higher taxes, but we fortunate upper-income types still do OK. The top tax rate is still way, way lower than it was under Eisenhower (90%) or Kennedy, LBJ, Nixon, Ford and Carter (70%).



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