“Hey kids, let’s put on a show!” So says Mickey Rooney to Judy Garland in a number of Depression era films such as “Babes in Arms”, “Strike up the Band”, and “Babes on Broadway”. The formula for these movies consists of the following: a crisis of sorts, in which there is not enough money to do what certainly needs to be done, like keeping children from being forced to live on a “work farm”, or getting a high school choir to Chicago to compete in a radio talent contest, or giving “slum kids” two weeks in the country. Yes, there is never enough money for these deserving kids, so Mickey, Judy and gang put on a show to raise money.
And, in the end, putting on a show really does solve the problem. Movie viewers were convinced, if only for 90 minutes, that their financial woes could be easily solved. If only they could get Mickey and Judy to come put on a little musical in their hometown.
In the spirit of “let’s put on our show”, comes the latest suggestion of our Commander-in-Chief. Only, instead of putting on a show, we’re going to distract ourselves with a parade. A big parade. Probably the biggest and best parade we’ve ever seen. And while we watch it on our screens at home, we will be assured that we are in fact fine.
Tell that to my clients.
I volunteer with a nonprofit organization that prepares tax returns for low-income residents for free. Their mission is to ensure that these citizens will get back the refund they deserve.
This group has a second mission, which has to do with helping our clients achieve “financial wellness”. That’s where I come in. I am a “financial advocate”. My job is to encourage clients to save at least a little of that refund, by putting it into an existing account or opening a new savings account. We even offer savings bonds for purchase, in case the taxpayer wishes to save money for their child’s future.
It is always a challenge for me to figure out how to introduce myself, or, more accurately my role. I tell them I am a financial advocate and I am here to assist them as they decide what they will be doing with their tax refund. Most of them look at me with a slight air of disbelief. As in, “What do you think I’m gonna do with this money?” But they are patient with me; they say “Well, I thought I’d pay off my bills.” Or “I thought I’d get out of debt.” (I will add that many of them do, in fact, put at least some of the money into savings).
You know, you hear about people in financial crisis, but until you’re up close and personal with these fine people, you just don’t really understand what it must be like. Take “Lindsey”, a 25-year-woman who, after paying her sky-high student loans and ever-increasing rent on her one-bedroom apartment, tells me she has less than $10/day to spend on everything else. She is so young and so earnest, it’s all I can do to not pay her rent this month. “Amanda” lost her job 3 years ago. She is paying off 3 years of back taxes, student loans, and health bills. Finally, “James”, like so many others, says, “I’ll save money after all this debt gets settled.” We both know those debts will never get settled, not as long as new bills come along to replace the old. He is trying.
And so it goes. Most of these hardworking, well-meaning folks just cannot and will not ever get out from under. Their only hope is the coveted tax refund, the refund that is used to pay off the debt from the year before.
Meanwhile, our president wants a parade. Only this time, I do not think it will work. It will not convince us that we are doing better.
So, Mr. President. Go ahead with your silly show of wealth and prosperity. You will not be fooling us. Because, unfortunately, many of us know that this parade is just passing us by.