She has no health insurance. She lost it when she got divorced and cannot afford to buy her own. “I don’t make enough to be financially stable. I live from paycheck to paycheck,” she told me. I asked Brown what she knew about the Affordable Care Act, which would probably provide some subsidies to help pay for coverage. “Very little,” she replied, although she thought the subsidies would be helpful. “There’s just so much crap being spoken from both sides, it’s hard to know what’s the truth. You just stop listening.”
Are the candidates addressing her concerns? “I met Obama four years ago when he was in Iowa,” where she used to live, she said adding: “I think he’s trying for the middle class and the lower class.” She didn’t care much for Romney. “I used to be a Mormon, for a short time,” Brown said, “and when you are a member of the church, there is not much separation of church and state.”
Thirty-five-year-old Tracy Knox was sitting on a bench underneath a tree in the Old Market, waiting for the Saturday farmer’s market to open. Her hair was wrapped in a bandana, and she was to begin her first day selling in the market for her employer, the Great Harvest Bread Company, which she described as a locally owned chain that makes products with all natural ingredients and honey instead of high fructose corn syrup. Working at the bakery in customer service was a new job for Knox. She started there a month ago and earns about $8 an hour. Knox said that was considerably less than she earned previously as a telemarketer in the cable business. Part of her responsibilities in that job was collecting bills, she said, and she didn’t like that at all. She’s a single mother, and the hours made it difficult for her to spend time with her three sons, ages 15, 12, and 10.
“I know people make choices, and you can’t raise children on $8 an hour,” she said. “But it gives me the quality of life, the ability to go back to school, and be a mom.” Knox continued: “I’m not middle class. I grew up middle class but I can’t raise my children as middle class because of the lack of opportunities.”
Her predicament fed her beliefs about the election and the candidates. “I don’t think the candidates ever actually speak to us,” she said. “Unfortunately, America has become—I don’t want to say it—a class system. If you’re below a certain income line, they blow you off.”
Knox said she did get some child support and had a good family network in Omaha that would make it possible for her to return to school in the fall. She was hoping that would open the door to more opportunities. “I’m neither a Democrat or a Republican,” she said. “Honestly it’s the lesser of two evils.” What don’t you like about Obama, I asked. “It’s something I can’t pinpoint,” Knox answered. She said if there were “a really strong Republican out there,” she would vote for him or her. As for Romney, she said, “he’s very arrogant and has more money than I’ll have in my life. He doesn’t know how it is to eat eggs for three weeks because that’s all you can afford.”
Lindsey Westervelt, 30, likes her job managing the Overland Sheepskin Co., which sells a variety of attractive clothing and accessories made from sheep hides. She had worked at the store for six and a half years, and last year she became the manager. She told me it was a great company to work for, with loyal employees. Business is good. Omaha is home to big companies like Conagra, Gallup, Kiewit, Mutual of Omaha, and they supply lots of customers. When Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway has its annual meeting, many stockholders come here to buy, she told me.