I Was Once Paul Ryan’s “Cindy”

This past week, in an attempt to convince the average taxpayer that Paul Ryan’s Post Card Plan would benefit them, Speaker Ryan introduced on Twitter “Cindy.”  She is a “pretend” single mother earning $30,000 per year who would get a $700 tax break thanks to the massive 1,000+ page reform and tax cut package the GOP has rammed through the House and is attempting to ram through the Senate with no bipartisan consensus whatsoever.

In what was a crude, chalkboard drawing of “Cindy’s” life, Ryan talked about how she could squirrel away that $700 for some unanticipated need.  I did the math and determined that if we were talking about a true raise in “Cindy’s” income, it equates to about $17 per week.

I am sorry, Mr. Speaker.  If “Cindy” is very lucky, she might be able to buy a cheap set of tires for her car if she needs them.  The last set I bought cost me more than $1,100 about 4 years ago.

At one time, I was Ryan’s “Cindy” – literally.  I had the same job (restaurant management) and earned the same salary (approximately $30,000 per year) that “Cindy” earned in his artful chalk presentation.  Of course, that was back in the mid-90’s, so the “Cindys” of the world have not seen an actual increase in income for more than 20 years by his own admission.  I am sure that $17 per week will make them jump for joy.

Along with my then teenage son, I moved to Atlanta in the early 90’s for family reasons.  I had given up a good job in public affairs with Pacific Gas and Electric Company several years earlier to try my hand at owning my own business.  I struggled with it for about a year before admitting defeat and the need to move on.

When I worked at PG&E, the CEO knew me by name.  I dined on silver chargers at one of the most lavish hotels in San Francisco one year, and for the first time in my life had sorbet between courses to cleanse my palette.  At cocktails after, one of our reps walked in with John Kerry and he joined us for drinks.

Naively, I thought that background plus my media experience would make me a hot property once I got to Atlanta.  What a joke that turned out to be.  I can remember calling to see about the advancement of my application for a media relations role with a federal agency here in Atlanta.  Mine was among 500 resumes they were reviewing.

I needed a job-fast.  I had a child to support, the need to make a home for him and a sister-in-law who never had much in the way of patience for me, seeing me eternally as five-years-old and the “little brat” who took love and attention away from her beloved husband.  My days in their household looking for a place to land were numbered.

My parents were bar and restaurant workers.  Both were fabulous cooks and hard workers, although they tended to stay at work drinking after hours long when I should have been home and in bed.  I saw a lot of things in my early years to which most children are not exposed.  However, I did learn to play pool and shuffleboard at an early age, skills that still haven’t quite left me.  Glass half full.

When I was 13, my Dad achieved his dream of finally opening his own restaurant.  We moved 30 miles across the border from Indiana into Ohio and lived above The Cottage Inn, where my parents worked like slaves for the next three years, only to lose our home in Indiana they had put up as collateral because supposedly they still owed the bank money on the lease.  Business tip:  Never let the bankers – who also happened to own the restaurant – do your bookkeeping for you too.

At any rate, those three years saw me serving breakfast before school, during lunch to classmates on my own breaks from school, and dinners after, five days per week, plus all day on Saturdays and Sundays.  Between the ages of 13 and 19, I was the best waitress you could have hoped to come across.  So good, in fact, that the supper club where I started as a bus girl the summer before I turned 18 let me work the floor as a waitress when they had overflow and turned me into their weekday lunch waitress in the cocktail lounge.  I served only the food – the bartender brought over the drinks.  It was still illegal.

Now, I cannot cook a homemade meal worth a flip.  In fact, the only too true story about my cooking skills is the night I came home from work and told my son I was going to make supper.  He told me he would rather have McDonald’s, reached into his own pocket, and paid for our meal.

However, I can flip burgers and drop fries all day long.  And, the small fast food restaurant I took over in the Atlanta area ended up having the fastest speed of drive through for our territory in the time I managed it. In fact, we went from being one of the worst restaurants in Atlanta to being one of the best in our chain.

But if restaurant work is grueling (trust me, it is), fast food work is 10x more difficult because of the speed at which you are expected to serve customers, and the volume of customers you are expected to serve in order to make an equivalent amount of money for your product as compared to dine-in restaurants.  Often managers end up working the floor as well as managing their shifts, doing reports, inventory, etc. because employees are inclined to call off.

They are not 40 hour work weeks – more like 70-80.  When you are in your 40s doing this, and you have been working many years of similar hours before in newsroom and corporate settings, your body breaks down fast.  At least mine did.

But God saw fit to take care of me with later jobs better suited to my education and developed skill sets.  I was blessed not only to more than double my income in the next few years, but with a windfall from stock options as well.  I know it was God caring for me, because my body continued to betray me, and by 2003, I had to retire.

So, I am luckier than many of the other “Cindys” of the world.  My ability to purchase a nice home in a beautiful neighborhood, help my son through Emory, bring an elderly friend to live in my home and pay my way in the world has been exponentially better than when I was “Cindy” back in the early 90s.

But here’s the thing.  That $700 Speaker Ryan is so happy to give “Cindy” might cover one major expense this year.  But just one.  If “Cindy” has a life that reflects my own at the time, she would always have been juggling her bills, even pawning her jewelry and car title when needed to make sure ends meet.  That is the reality of “Cindy’s” life, not the chalk board version Ryan so “creatively” imagines.

All this to give rich people tax breaks to buy private jets and fuel them, to give their heirs greater fortunes than they already stand to inherit.  Meanwhile, let’s remember, “Cindy” hasn’t seen her income level rise in about 22 years now.  And she most likely still won’t.

Because those people intend to buy jets, high end real estate and blue chip stocks with that extra income they will get from their tax breaks, which start at about $250,000 per year.  They do not plan to reinvest it in the economy.  Just ask Gary Cohn – he asked them quite literally the other day and they said “no.”

And that is a shame.  Because it is the “Cindys” of the world they are reliant upon to fuel those jets, serve those heirs and work at the corporations in their stock portfolios.  They should care that “Cindy” has good medical benefits, is a highly educated/trained worker and will stay on the job for a long time, reducing the turnover costs of hiring and firing employees.  A hint – it is expensive.  Which is why so many companies have turned to the temp-to-hire model.

I am not an economist and I can’t give you an extrapolation of dollars in earlier years to today’s value.  I just know that when America took care of its employees, the country prospered.  When shareholders and the corporate elite stopped caring about the guy making the widgets, they hurt themselves in the long run.

If they only care about self-interest, they should realize it costs them more than ever before to have their way politically, for one thing. Think of how much money they have to pour into their campaigns to elect people the quality of a Roy Moore.  Shockingly, the Koch Brothers and the Mercers of the world don’t care.  But then again, Harvey Weinstein didn’t honestly care about what he claimed on his side of the aisle, either.

If shareholders don’t think the discontent in the American workplace costs their stock values and dividends, then they don’t know much about the world of work.  Many probably don’t.

I suggest they learn.  And I suggest they take some of that money they would have put into their jets, real estate and stock portfolios and invest in “Cindy” instead.

That is, if those who say they truly want to “Make America Great Again” honestly do.




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