After leaving the fishing business, Reynen worked in a factory making wire products and then landed the job at Wal-Mart. He took his Social Security benefits when he was sixty-two, and now gets $632 a month. “That’s not a lot,” he said. “That’s why I have to work right now.” He works an eight-hour day and believes he will have to work until he reaches age seventy. The week I talked to Reynen, the Census Bureau reported that seniors were enjoying some of the biggest income gains in decades. That is, at least some of them are.
Reynen worries about Medicare. He knows he needs it to pay for the knee replacement he’s getting soon. “I don’t see it being that good in the future because of the economy and the price of things,” he told me.
He said he voted for Obama and probably would vote for Feingold. But like a lot of other Wisconsinites, he was thinking more about the Packers than politics. “I’m a 100 percent Packer fan,” he told me. Had he ever seen a game at Lambeau Field? “I couldn’t afford to go to the games,” he said. “I watch them on my new TV at home. It’s thirty-seven inches.”
Erica Hofstetter was tending bar at the Sunset Bowl, a bowling alley in Waukesha. She is another Census Bureau statistic. Almost fifty-one million people had no health insurance last year. Hofstetter was one of them. She still has no coverage, but had heard “rumors” about being able to get coverage under her parents’ insurance. She hasn’t looked into that because she heard you had to be twenty-five to get the coverage.
Hofstetter is twenty-three and works part time at the bowling alley, and hopes to return to college soon. She says she wasn’t into school when she was a student at the University of Wisconsin’s Whitewater campus, but now feels ready to return to her studies in English and creative writing.
In high school, she said, she was voted most likely to become president. “I was very political. But as I get older, I get less and less interested in politics,” she told me. Still, Hofstetter had firm opinions. About health reform, she said, “it’s basically government-run health care paid for by our taxes. It would be the government taking over health companies and run by some branch of government.” She watched a lot of the coverage of the reform debate on C-Span and noted that she saw the final debate the night the law was voted on.
We talked a lot about the media. She primarily watches Fox News. “I find them to be the least biased either way, left or right leaning,” she said. “Every time I turn on the news I get upset. More and more people are working against each other for personal gain rather than worker for each other.” Our conversation veered into Social Security territory. Hofstetter did not seem to know about the social compact that underlies the program. “I know they want to privatize it, and I like that. I’d personally prefer to know I had my own money in my account,” she explained. She said she knew that privatization presented some risks like the stock market falling and wiping out her investments, but she didn’t mind that. “I would feel more comfortable knowing it is in my hands.”
For others, neither politics nor health care nor Social Security are high on their list of priorities. For Enisael Aguilera, age twenty-six, getting a job is foremost. Aguilera was born in California and has lived in Waukesha, where his family runs a clothing business. He worked in a foundry as a welder making $16.50 an hour but has been out of work for eleven months, living on food stamps and unemployment checks. He will get only one more, he told me.
Aguilera wasn’t up on politics, although he said he would probably vote for Feingold because Democrats are more helpful to Latinos. That is, if he voted. He wasn’t sure he would. The New York Times reported that Latinos this year are particularly dejected with the political process. I asked him what Latinos need most. “A driver’s license,” he replied. I thought about his answer. Health care, Social Security, and gobs of other issues don’t matter as much as a way to get to work.