patriotism and hope

Just for fun and monkeys today, I went to this website, which calculates tax benefits for the average UK citizen. I pretended I was British, and entered our family’s information there. This exchange rate calculator  helped me convert our dollar amounts to pounds. It asks for things like whether we rent, whether we work, where we work, etc. etc. Our family information was essentially this:
  • Family of 3 (two adults, married; one minor child)
  • Adult 1: Employed
  • Adult 2: Un-employed, looking for work
  • Child: No income or savings
  • Home: Renters
  • Gross income: Approximately 1,069.60 every 2 weeks (based off the conversion of my husband’s current wages, hours worked, and pay schedule).
Long story short, in the UK, assuming equivalent income and lifestyles, we would be eligible for the following tax credits:
  • Child Tax Credit . . . 59.36/week
  • Working Tax Credit . . . 89.18/week
  • Child Benefit . . . 20.30/week
  • Jobseekers Allowance . . . 67.50/week
    • Total . . . 236.34 (approximately $370 dollars)/ week
If you reduce (or heck, remove) the Jobseekers Allowance altogether, that is still an addition of $265.41, or $530.82 per pay period. Remember, too, that the UK has socialized medicine. Although employers often offer the option of privatized insurance to cover your health care needs, apparently most citizens in the UK opt for the state version. I know John and I would.
In other words, assuming equivalent income and lifestyle, we would pay the equivalent of about $125 more per paycheck in government taxes. In return, we would receive a $530.82 — $740 per pay period stipend from the government. Suddenly, the fact that I’m stay-at-home mom and freelance writer wouldn’t be such a major issue. Additionally, the upfront costs of medical care and prescriptions would no longer be a concern when considering whether or not to go to the doctor, so our quality of life would rise in that area as well. Even more stunning, these tax benefits are in addition to the tax benefits we Americans already take for granted.
I like the United States, as a whole, and I love Washington state. I think our nation has done insanely wonderful, stunning things before. As a people and a country we have often achieved greatness. But I also think we too often get caught up in past achievements, and stand around polishing our trophies while the rest of the world not merely passes us by, but surpasses us. We’re not just “falling behind,” in terms of quality of life, we are behind. The United States trails other first world countries in terms of quality of life, quality of healthcare, crime rates, and just the general standard of living. It’s embarrassing.
Just last week, I ran across a discussion thread between some Europeans and some Americans. The topic of vacation came up, and the Europeans were completely and utterly shocked when they realized, in the course of the discussion, that not only do Americans have to pay for their own healthcare, and not only are their wages generally less than Europeans, but Americans are also only granted 2 weeks vacation, and we often don’t even take that. Apparently, it’s pretty damn common in other first world countries to have up to 6 weeks of paid vacation. One comment from that thread really blew my mind (paraphrasing):

“It’s bizarre. Americans are fighting over non-issues that the rest of the world already figured out, like healthcare and gay marriage and women’s rights, but no-one is saying a peep about lower wages and fewer vacations? There would be riots over here if people were subjected to that kind of treatment.”

Clearly, that statement is somewhat hyperbolic. America isn’t the only country that hasn’t figured out basic human rights and affordable health care for all — they’re just the only country that is considered a “first world nation” that hasn’t figured this stuff out. The point is, all the facts are there, and they are so glaringly obvious that it requires a careful cultivation of ignorance and distortion of the facts to deny it. It has reached the embarrassing point where I have actually heard conservatives say stuff like, “Well, at least we’re not like Iraq/ China/ South Africa.”
You know what? It’s easy to claim we’re “winning” when the metric doesn’t compare! It’s apples to oranges, miles to kilometers! It’s like throwing a baseball player into a football match, watching him fail miserably, and saying, “Well, he’s the best baseball player on the field!” It wouldn’t matter if it was Albert Pujois (google informs me he is considered good) or Lance Carter (also googled, this time as worst) — he would still be the best baseball player in a football game!
Part of me wants to move to the UK or Canada, but a larger part of me doesn’t want to give up on the U.S.A. I think we can be a great country again, and I know that as far as states go, I definitely lucked out in my home state. States like Texas seem to be looking to Afghanistan and Iraq for their legal inspiration, but I often feel like Washington is looking to Norway, Sweden, and Denmark as templates of a modern, humane society to aspire to. There are ways in which Washington state disappoints me, but overall I think we’re extremely lucky to live in such a liberal-minded state.
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