Friday, August 3, 2012

'We were living on the edge'

Mitt and Ann Romney enjoying their summer home at Lake Winnipesaukee
I recently came across this 1994 interview with Ann Romney that just leaves me speechless (not really, but please, please read it. It's priceless).
It seems that Ann and Mitt were really "struggling" in college, circa late 1960s, so much so that they lived in a basement apartment that cost $62 a month and were so poor that they had to use a door for a desk.
"We were living on the edge, not entertaining," as they both attended Brigham Young University, she tells the Boston Globe in this Oct. 20, 1994, interview when Mitt was running for governor of Massachusetts.
Well I can feel for her. In 1967 I too was living on the edge, in my senior year at Rutgers, College of South Jersey, in lovely downtown Camden, working two or three part-time jobs (who can remember now), living in an $80 a month apartment, with help from a roommate who was also struggling, and spending $25 a week between us for food in a good week.
If I wanted to cut up my 1967 college yearbook, I could show you a picture of me with the College Center Activities Committee. I was summoned to pose for the photo while I was working one of those two or three jobs so there I am in a hideous canary-yellow waitress-bus girl uniform that I wore while busing tables in the college center.  Hey, it was a job and I was not too proud to do any job that kept the wolf from my door.
According to the interview with Ann Romney, despite the fact she and Mitt were struggling students, she was kicking out a kid every year or two and not working because she and Mitt thought it was important "for me to stay home with the children, and I was delighted."
"Mitt and I walked to class together, shared housekeeping, had a lot of pasta and tuna fish and learned hard lessons."
"I had a baby sitter during class time, but otherwise I'd hold my son on my lap while I studied," she said.
What! A baby sitter? I was the baby sitter. No woman I ever went to school with could afford to have children and go to college at the same time.
Maybe baby daddy could go to school, but baby momma got baby sitters only so she could work to put baby daddy through. Already back then Ann's universe and the rest of our universes were diverging into different planes of existence.
I walked to classes too, right out my back door.  And I ate a lot of tuna fish and pasta (though I don't think we called it that back then) and even, on occasion, canned bacon.
That's right. Bacon in a can. The most God awful stuff on the face of the Earth.  My roommate and I also shopped for label-less mystery cans at the Campbell Soup Co. thrift store. You never knew what was in the can until you opened it.
Mitt and Ann and my roommate and I and millions of other baby Boomer children were alike in one respect -- we had been brought up to believe that education was the pathway to a comfortable Middle Class existence and we understood that our college poverty was temporary.
Here's where we were different. She claims that neither she nor Mitt got any help from their very well-to-do parents during those college years. Hard to believe, but okay. I'll take her word.
My mother and stepfather didn't help me either, other than buying me a $200, 10-year-old Volkswagen. But I am eternally grateful that my father faithfully sent me $50 a month.
I think now that must have been an awesome struggle for him as he was living in a trailer and supporting a second family while working at a GE plant. Without that monthly stipend I would most assuredly not have graduated from college.
Here is another way the college-era Romneys and I were different. I really was struggling.
I was literally living hand to mouth, never knowing whether I would make tuition or rent from one month to the next. And I hasten to acknowledge that I was not alone.   Millions of us have gone through that mill.
The Romneys, on the other hand, had a very nice fallback: They owned a fair amount of American Motors stock, courtesy of Mitt's father, that they could sell when the rent money came due, according to Ann.
Did I mention that Romney's father, George, was the president of American Motors?
It's not clear how much stock Mitt had in those horrible old college days.  By one estimate, it was roughly $60,000 worth in 1969 dollars (about $377,000 today), not "we're facing starvation" by any means.
Here's Ann: "Five years later, stock that had been $6 a share was $96 and Mitt cashed it so we could live and pay for education."
Ann does admit that Mitt's daddy helped them out with a loan so they could buy their first home for $42,000 in Belmont, Mass., around 1971, which they sold seven years later for $90,000.
"So we not only stayed for free, we made money.  As I said Mitt's very bright," Ann told the Globe.
He may be very bright, but making money on that house doesn't prove it.  The Romneys merely took advantage of the same rising housing market the rest of us did.
My husband and I bought a home in 1970 in Trenton for $24,000 and sold it in 1979 for $54,000. We then bought a home in Swarthmore for $100,000 in 1981 that we sold in 1990 for $210,000.  I bought a house for $154,000 in 1991 and sold it three years ago for $275,000.  And we were financial dimwits.
Here is what is clear -- from the time they were "poor students" until now, Mitt and Ann Romney have never lived on the edge as you and I did, as most blue collar, Middle Class and poor people did and do.
They have never known what it was like to work your way through college because you had to and then work the rest of lives to provide a comfortable life for your families. They have never lost their job to outsourcing, their home to foreclosure or 40 percent of their retirement savings to Wall Street gambling like so many of the rest of us have. They have never had to go back to work in their retirement years because they don’t have enough money even with Social Security to survive.
They knew that one brief period of pretend belt-tightening in college and that was it.
Mitt Romney has been retired since 1998 (or 2001 depending on whether you believe him or his SEC filings) and is still raking in millions of dollars a year from his former business.
Our 401Ks have $100,000 or so if we were lucky and frugal and didn't get killed by the stock market. 

His IRA (and here’s a great mystery) has $102 million.
"We were struggling" my sweet patootie.

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