Sun, Oct 21, 2012 - Page 9 News List

Colorado’s working poor

The US poverty rate has risen 19 percent since 2000. For voters in Fort Collins struggling to stay afloat, the question is whether US presidential candidates Obama or Romney offer any kind of solution

By Gary Younge  /  The Guardian, Fort Collins, Colorado

Mark is one of those rare species this election. An undecided voter with genuinely eclectic views. He is an evangelical Christian who is pro-gun control and a more humane immigration policy, who wants to rein in the deficit, thinks unions are dinosaurs and is against abortion although he would rather see people’s hearts changed than legislation. He voted for John McCain last time because he did not think Obama had the experience, and was a registered Republican until July 4, when, appropriately enough, he registered as an independent.

Both campaigns are spending millions to reach him, microtargeting the issues they think will swing his vote their way. They are also bombarding him with ads. However, all they are earning so far is his contempt.

“If you took all the money they spent on the political system and elections you could feed the world,” Weaver says.

He is not particularly impressed by either candidate.

“Somebody’s got to fix the economy, but I don’t know that either of them has the guts to do it,” he says. “I’m looking to vote for someone I like and trust; I’ve never been more distrustful of the whole thing. I wish we could vote for none of the above. I want a do-over.”

Mark’s fortunes began to change in the summer of 2009 when he was a human resources manager in a company with 1,500 employees. He was let go and replaced by a colleague 20 years his junior on half of his salary. He could have found other work elsewhere in the country, but that would have involved uprooting his three children, and he did not think that was fair. He got another job in a start-up company that involved a long commute, and which eventually collapsed owing him money. With his mortgage paid off and no debts, the biggest expense for a family of five was healthcare. Since everyone in the family was healthy they contemplated doing without it.

Then his youngest daughter got bitten by a rattlesnake.

“That would have been a six-figure healthcare bill,” he says. “If we’d gotten rid of healthcare at that point we would have been sunk.”

It was around that time he started going to the food bank. He stopped after he got a job at a major book store as a night-time accountant and head cashier paying just US$9 an hour but with good health benefits and is now getting a human resources consultancy practice off the ground.

When Pezzani heard the tape of Romney referring disparagingly to the 47 percent of the country who do not pay taxes she was unimpressed.

“It’s very difficult to see the folks that we’re serving maligned in that way,” she says.

Beck-Ferkiss at the HPI has similar reservations.

“It’s hard for me to believe that Romney is focused on the population that I serve,” she says.

However, Mark says it just confirmed everything he already thought: “It doesn’t surprise me about Romney because he’s always struck me as a stuffed shirt. He’s arrogant, and it’s hard for me to get past that. It didn’t change my mind about him because I always thought that about him. It was exactly the same as Obama saying ‘You didn’t build that.’ Those were exactly the words I would expect to come out of his mouth.”

Michelle, on the other hand, was devastated.

“I was heartbroken,” she says. “I was highly offended. I thought he’s just disrespected me personally. I just don’t think the Republican party cares about people like me.”

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