The death of the middle class

Did anyone else see Tammy Sloulin’s piece in today’s Helena Independent Record? It’s heartbreaking. It’s terrifying. It’s an explanation why she quit teaching and joined the Army:

My husband and I are both teachers and we have three children. Our salaries are not sufficient to keep up with the cost of living. Without medical and dental insurance for our family and/or higher pay, we are not able to supply our children with the quality of care we feel they should have….Besides low pay, I am also concerned about my own future and the future of my family when it comes to education. I fully intend to go back to school to improve my skills and to receive my master’s degree. Unfortunately, there is very little monetary incentive (in my current district) for receiving a master’s and the expense of more education in Montana is very high.

I have wanted to be a teacher since I was in third grade.


The Army will help me pay for more education, train me in foreign language skills and provide my family with excellent medical and dental benefits. My enlistment salary is thousands of dollars higher than a full time teaching contract and the Army rewards individuals who continue their personal education. In many ways it saddens me that I have to leave my profession in order to better myself for it. I look forward to the day when I can afford to be a teacher in Montana again.

Got that? A mother of three and an elementary school teacher joined the Army – not out of a sense of patriotic duty, not because she wants to defend home and country, not because she wants to go fight in Iraq – but because of dental insurance and money for school.

What’s wrong with this picture? Does anyone else feel Sloulin’s been coerced into joining up? Is this what the future of middle class American families going to be, either join the military or fall into poverty? And it’s health care costs that are behind Sloulin’s decision. She’s joining the Army – putting her life in danger – so that her children will have health care.

Look, I don’t think there’s a conspiracy between the government and insurance companies to raise health care costs so high to ensure that US citizens can’t take risks in their professional lives (like, say, working on art instead of computer software…or becoming professional revolutionaries, maybe), or to ensure that the ranks of its armies remain well-stocked, but I do think that’s the effect of diminishing value of paychecks and high health care costs.

People don’t necessarily want a steady corporate desk job and the money that comes along with it. People don’t necessarily want to join the Army. Some people want to write or teach or farm or stay at home raising their kids.

There’s a warning in this letter to the middle class. Our days are numbered. Unless we do something about it.

  1. Do tell, what would you have us do?

  2. Yup. Interesting and painful selection there. “Unless we do something about it.”
    I’m in the NYC area, and with years of experience in too diverse jobs, even with a highly regarded undergrad degree, am still facing inadequate jobs for the prices, especially the real estate prices around here. As a longtime activist and food cooperative supermarket member, I’ve just been reading Marjorie Kelly’s Divine Right of Capital where she surgically cuts the fat from the issue. She sees how the profit motive lives in shareholder value and executive privilege and as of the ’80’s began reaching a new level of cannibalistic frenzy.
    A really inspiring story she tells, though, is of St. Luke’s Ad Agency in London, England. They were about to be acquired back in the early ’90’s, and layoffs were ordered. The staff refused to comply. They organized, negotiated, and established themselves as the primary owners of the company, and have since thrived!! Check it out here: . Of course, then there’s the Equal Exchange cooperative company in Massachussetts. That’s another good one. Moreover, there are dozens of food coops and quite a few worker coops across the country, see, and about St. Luke’s.
    Equal Exchange was started from scratch by three guys from a food coop. That’s one way to go. Keep praying and meditating and bike riding as well through when the harder feelings come up!

  3. Also, just looked up the PIRG’s, and found they have a chapter in Montana that looks pretty active. Check it out here:

  4. What would I do? The main thing would be to institute a single-payer health care system. Cheaper, more effecient, better care. No brainer.

  5. Mark T

    You’d be interfering with market economics. You never do that. It’s a no-brainer. Given time, the market will sort out our health care problems. The market always works. Even when it looks like it’s not working, it’s really working, but we just don’t understand its mystic qualities. Or, it’s government’s fault.

  6. It’s so true. The market is perfect, and we are mere servants to its excellence.

  7. mdh

    After one year in a new, but modest, home, I’m thinking we may have to sell it if the gas prices continue to go up. My husband is in this predicamnet, he commutes 100 miles per day. We can’t afford to live where he works, (and in the past year, with increased housing costs, we can no longer afford a home where we live now) he can’t afford to work where we live because he would take a drastic cut in pay. For now, it still better to commute, but for how long? The gas prices drove up heating costs and groceries, if you were minding this, maybe you noticed in the beginning it wasn’t so bad, but as time goes on, it gets worse. How much worse will this get? His company is not giving cost of living raises this year. I feel for the woman who joined the army. I want to do something to help my family and all middle class americans in the crunch. What can I do?

  8. That’s an excellent question.

    First off, it sounds like your husband needs to find a way to get to work cheaper. I’d suggest finding someone to carpool with. If he finds just one person who’d do the commute with him, you’d cut your gas prices in half. Find two, gas costs are a third…It might be worth an extra half-hour of driving…If you have two cars, a regular ride share might enable to sell one and save on payments, gas, and insurance for the second car…

    If people in your area are Internet savvy, you might consider starting up on online ride board or something. You might even be able to make a little income off it if it takes off.

    For the long run, IMHO we need to address health care first. I don’t know about you, but my health care costs rival my mortgage payment. It’s like I own two houses. Our system is notoriously inefficient: we’re not getting more because we pay more, we pay more because of administrative costs and insurance compnay philosophy.

    A single-payer system is the obvious answer; until a legislator has the guts to pursue this against the insurance lobbyists we need reform, ways to help small businesses give cheap insurance to its employees. Maybe universal health care for kids.

    After that…well, we could roll back the massive tax cuts for the wealthy and give massive cuts for the middle income bracket. Heck, I’d be for a flat tax with the bottom tax bracket set at, say, 100K (under 100K and you don’t pay). Gut military pork projects like SDI and use the money for higher ed costs.


    In the larger scheme you, like me, can find candidates or nonprofits who are willing to fight for middle class values and support them, if not with dollars, then with your time. Volunteer.

    Lastly, just keep your voice heard. You can start a blog. You can write letters to your newspaper or representatives. Talk with your friends about the problems, brainstorm and network.

    We desperately need to get back into the political process again.

  9. mdh

    wish he could carpool, but once he’s at work he travles back and forth between offices, so he would always have to use his car, one problem is no guranteed quiting time. we did post on a carpool board though, you never know what you can work out.

    Yes, the healthcare issue has got me fired up too. My mind is racing these days. A friend-like myself- a medical professional had pulomonary embolism, a life threatening problem and was told by her insurance, that’s not an emergency.

    I’m so sorry to hear about your medical issues. It’s not like you chose to be in that situation. We struggle a bit with our out of pocket, have been lucky not have anything serious. It seems when you talk to people, everyone has their own issues, BUT health issues really are most important. You can’t simply tell a sick person on the verge of losing their home to wait for things to work themselves out.

    I have contacted some people, waiting to hear back. I wish I could do something for you though.

  10. Oh, I’m doing okay. Basically it means that we both have to work and save pennies so we can move out of this two-bedroom house.

    I’d prefer to work part-time and spend more time with the kids…but we’re solvent, if not spending as much time together as a family…

  11. Kirk Sloulin

    Your supposition that my wife is ignorant enough to be coerced into joining the Army is insulting. This is a person that has the little gold high honors sticker on her university diploma. In fact she does want to serve her country. She is ticked off at the liberal media that won’t get behind the task of defending western civilization. Tammy is quite willing to fight in Iraq. Her point was that being an officer in the United States Army will reward her efforts far better than any position she could find in the field of education. This should not be the case. Tammy Sloulin is currently in her last five weeks of Officers Candidate School at fort Benning, Georgia.

  12. Mr. Slouin, if you read my post, I never claimed your wife was ignorant for joining the military. To be fair to my interpretation, your wife in her letter not once mentioned she was joining the military for reasons of honor or service or dedication to the mission in Iraq or elsewhere.

    I said she was “coerced” into joining up — out of the duty to provide for the material well being of her family. That she would risk her life for her family’s welfare is hardly shameful. Most of us feel “coerced” by our material concerns to do things we don’t necessarily want to do.

    The letter published in the paper clearly showed that your wife felt remorse for leaving her teaching position.

    Her point was that being an officer in the United States Army will reward her efforts far better than any position she could find in the field of education. This should not be the case.

    In this point, we all agree.

    Thanks for stopping by. If you or your wife want to clarify the letter, feel free to email me and I’ll post it.

    As for the “liberal” media and “defending Western civilization,” well…that’s a whole ‘nother debate.

  13. Kirk Sloulin

    This was a resignation letter not ment for publication. Please remove it.

  1. 1 Left in the West » Blog Archive » Links…

    […] rationale for joining the army deserves a wide audience, as does Jay’s commentary. | Permanent LinkCategories:foreign, environment,education […]

  2. 2 4&20 blackbirds » Blog Archive » Links…

    […] Singer on the worker health care crisis. This is not an isolated case. Remember the woman who joined the army for the health care benefits? […]

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