I live in–no, I am a homeowner (which has its own privileges) in a ZIP code where the life expectancy is 20 years higher than it is in the ZIP code in this city with the lowest life expectancy. In large part, this is because I was able to marry my partner (thanks, Loving vs. Virginia!). Because in addition to being part of a two-income household, I otherwise would not have imagined ever owning a whole house with an bachelor’s degree in English.
I have a full time job with benefits, which means employer provided health insurance. Which means that I probably don’t have as much to worry about because employer provided plans have not typically, even pre-ACA, excluded coverage for pre-existing conditions. Which, when you’ve had gap in coverage, can be anything. I had a friend who once got a letter from his health insurance (pre-ACA) that listed “pain” as a pre-existing condition and therefore not covered. Not even specific pain, just pain. And so “historically” is not terribly reassuring to someone who didn’t have insurance for most of her childhood and still sometimes forgets that she can go to the doctor now and that the co-pay is probably less than buying several potential solutions in the OTC aisle of the drugstore.
I have a full time job with benefits that I would not have gotten without a college degree, even though one really does not require a college degree specifically to perform my job, nor any of the jobs I have ever held. A college degree that, without Pell grants and federally subsidized Stafford loans–well, okay, my parents and I could have taken out private loans and paid ridiculous interest, and we’d still be in debt now, over a decade later. I took out subsidized Stafford loans in my name and, combined with Pell grants, work study, and a scholarship, my dad was able to afford the rest.
Aside from a mortgage, I am not in any other debt now because my dad gave me my car and because I paid off my college loans years ago. I paid off my college loans thanks in large part to my dad, in part to a partner who was okay with getting all our groceries from Save-A-Lot, and in part to the education award I received after serving a year as an AmeriCorps*VISTA.
Did I mention that I started my career thanks to AmeriCorps? With that year of experience, I was offered full-time employment at a time when many of my peers were going to grad school because there are no student loans for being an unemployed college graduate, and/or moving back in with their parents even while working. This was just before the housing bubble burst in 2008. Did I mention that I was able to graduate (from a public college) when I did (in 2006) because I was able to take AP Calculus and college-level classes at my public high school? Timing can be everything, and I was lucky there as well.
I have been incredibly fortunate in life. Yeah, I work hard and save and all that. But my dad also did his best to give me a solid start in life and as an adult by minimizing the debt I had. Even if we didn’t have health insurance. I was extremely lucky not to have had any serious illnesses or injuries as a child and still am extremely lucky at the moment. Because that’s one of the ways people lose the roof over their head and start that spiral. When I graduated from college and was accordingly kicked off my parents’ health insurance, I was able to sign up for S-CHIP in the month between my last final and when the catastrophic insurance I had through AmeriCorps kicked in. And thanks to COBRA, I could buy an extension of that catastrophic insurance at the group rate while I waited the 60 days or so for my employer provided health insurance to kick in.
I am female, but I am also heterosexual. I am a person of color but also a member of the model minority. I don’t have any physical disabilities or learning disabilities. I grew up in a middle class household, with a dad who worked a white-collar job, so that I knew enough of what was okay and not okay and a lot of the unwritten rules of that type of professional world. Rules that I’m not even sure I can articulate now, even as I’ve watched others struggle with them. Which I guess I bring up to say that it’s complicated, intersectionality. None of us are all privileged or all disadvantaged or all anything in all spheres. Not even white, Christian, heterosexual males.
I guess that what I’m trying to say is intersectionality applies to cause and effect as well. That we can all (myself included) do better in clarifying the world instead of simplifying it. I am privileged to the point that I’m probably not the person who comes to mind when most people think of someone who has been able to get to this place in life because of my family, government programs, and plain good fortune. Would I have gotten here without those combined with working hard and trying to make good decisions? Probably not. But without any of the first three, I never would have had the chance to try.