What's Happening to the Little People

I want to tell you about my friend, Nicolas.

Nicolas works in a little natural foods grocery store as a clerk. At the age of 35, he has been there almost nine years learning how to run the business because he hopes to take over as manager when the current manager retires. As you can imagine, Nicolas is not a millionaire. He earns a grocery clerk’s wage, but he is very frugal and saves as much as he can.

I’d also like to mention my friend, Joe. He has been working in the same grocery for many years, too. Last year he turned 62, retired on social security and now works part time. He needs to work 15 hours a week, no more, no fewer. If he works more, it cuts into his social security. If he works fewer, well, let’s just say it’s smaller helpings of rice and beans that week. Joe is also very frugal. He has no car, but is happy getting around on his bike or by foot.

Both Nicolas and Joe help make ends meet by taking advantage of food discounts from the grocery. At times they eat fruit and veggies that are perfectly edible but not saleable in the store. Occasionally, they go home with free packaged food that is at or past the expiration date.

Nicolas and Joe are clean, presentable and cheerful. They provide excellent customer service and take great pride in their work. They are intelligent people, yet for whatever reason, they never wanted to jump on the fast track.

One day in early April, Nicolas asked me if I knew anything about a tax increase. He told me that, for the first time, he and Joe have to make payments with their 1040s. Nicolas said that it was a lot of money. He said he had enough in savings to pay it, but he was worried that Joe didn’t. u201CIt’s a lot of money,u201D he reiterated, u201Cabout $100.u201D

Pardon the cliché but you could have knocked me over with a feather. I had absolutely no idea that in this land of plenty, these two gentlemen were living so close to the edge.

I quickly did some research and discovered what had happened. Our friends in DC had changed the withholding schedule so that people like Nicolas and Joe would have a bit less taken from their pay each week. This was supposed to u201Cstimulateu201D the economy with increased spending. Nick and Joe had no idea what was going on, since the change each pay day was so small. But at the end of the year, this added up to more than Joe could afford in taxes.

Is this what the economic miracle of the last few decades has given us; people who after 10, 15, 20 years of a career in the service sector can barely make ends meet? People who are afraid that for lack of a measly $100, they will be at the mercy of the IRS? People who are subjected to the half-baked schemes of anonymous government economists? Good, hardworking people who subsist on expired food while being taxed to pay Goldman Sachs bonuses?

The only miracle I see in this situation is the lack of rioting in the streets of America.