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My 99 Percent Story

Updated on April 20, 2015

Why I am the 99 Per Cent

I am 56 years old. I am well-educated and debt-free. I own my own small business.

My Health Issues

When I was in college, the cleaning crew used a chemical to clean something that caused my eyes to swell shut within seconds of exposure. There was no warning given that the chemical would be used, and the exposure left me permanently disabled and unable to work in any kind of "normal" environment because I am now allergic to practically everything. I went to dozens of specialists who could never find anything wrong with me and spent thousands of dollars trying to get a diagnosis. Finally a European doctor diagnosed me, but there is no treatment or cure for my condition and I have to live alone. I can't even date without special precautions. I have no hope for a family.

I tried to get health insurance. Just catastrophic coverage with a $50,000 deductible would cost $5,000 a month because of my pre-existing condition. If my business were running on full steam that would leave me just $4,000 a year (before taxes) for rent, food, clothing, gas, insurance, etc.

Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, I was able to obtain health insurance for a reasonable price.

The Four Conditions of Society: Poverty, by Jean Bourdichon
The Four Conditions of Society: Poverty, by Jean Bourdichon | Source

My Work Experience

I have worked since I was ten babysitting and doing chores. I started my first formal job the day after my sixteenth birthday for $1.65 an hour. I was sexually abused at my work by the assistant manager but nobody else was hiring, so I stayed in my job and accepted the abuse. I lost that job during a recession, and applied for eighty jobs a day until I found another job. I worked my way through college, working as much as four part-time jobs while taking eight classes. I'm accustomed to hard work, and worked all through graduate school, too. Upon graduation with my Master's degree I took a prestigious job in Europe but I did not pay into the U.S. Social Security system for the years I lived overseas, and so my Social Security won't be enough to live on.

A few years after my younger brother died from treatable Type II diabetes (he was an independent contractor in IT with a Computer Science degree, but didn't have health insurance, and I couldn't even afford to come back for the funeral) I came back to the U.S. to look after my parents, and the only job I could get was a part-time cashier that paid $6.50 an hour. The job made me sick because of the constant exposure to other people's soaps, shampoos, laundry detergents, etc. The special (and expensive) supplies I needed to comply with the workplace requirements and to cope with my disability, the company would not provide, and when I provided them myself, the supplies were stolen by other employees. I was abused and tormented at this job by my fellow employees with the encouragement of the management and left when I developed PTSD from the constant abuse, making me ineligible for unemployment. I consulted several employment attorneys who were sympathetic but told me that even with video evidence it would be difficult for me to prove a hostile work environment or get any relief.

I took my savings from my European job and started my own business, investing hundreds of dollars to get it going. That $80,000 nest egg lasted me six years. In good months I can pay the rent on my combined apartment/office. In bad months my parents help out with their retirement savings. Unless the economy improves, my business won't survive and I'll be forced to abandon my family to move back to Europe in order to support myself.

My Education

I graduated cum laude from high school at age sixteen, while working, and studied premed in college. I graduated cum laude, while working, and could not find a research opportunity at a medical school, thanks to government cuts for research. I went back to school and got a Master of Music degree summa cum laude, while working.

When Poverty Comes in at the Door, Love Flies Out the Window, by George Frederick Watts
When Poverty Comes in at the Door, Love Flies Out the Window, by George Frederick Watts | Source

Where I Am Now

I am one of the really lucky people. I have a roof over my head in a nice neighborhood, and help from my family. It's been many years since I bought clothes or shoes, and I eat meat once or twice a week at prepaid networking lunches where I invest a few dollars to try to get more clients. The rest of the week I live on staples like rice, or food I buy on clearance at the grocery store. I'm not wasteful. I haven't seen a doctor or had a checkup in over ten years. I'm lucky to afford the dentist once in a while. When my friends paid for me to have a weekend off (my first vacation in ten years) to stay with them, I had to scrounge up money to buy a nightgown at the thrift store in order to stay overnight because everything I owned is in tatters.

If my friends/neighbors don't start to do better financially, my business will close. If that happens, I won't have any choice but to move overseas again and hope I can convince the authorities to let me open a business there. I am not asking for anything for free. I am asking for my community to be lifted out of poverty, wealth disparity, and insecurity.

By the way, opening a business in the U.S. takes months and thousands of dollars, and dozens of forms. In Europe, opening a business takes 1 form, 1 week and 1 Euro.

I am the 99%. I am an Occupier.

What is Your 99% Story?

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