A calculation almost every American man over fifty has made in his head

There is one calculation that almost every American man over fifty* has made in his head that he will almost never admit to. The ones who have made it more than once and many times a year are the ones who have families and responsibilities who now find themselves at the scary end of a medical diagnosis and/or the threat or reality of unemployment.

That calculation is:

Am I worth more dead than alive?


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5 Replies to “A calculation almost every American man over fifty has made in his head”

  1. Actually, it’s not the men who do this calculation, it’s the wives. That accidental dismemberment policy is pretty attractive some days as well. 🙂

  2. As a single parson and parent for most of my life, I’ve done these types of calculations as well, but without the savings, house, life or health insurance.

    The fact is though that no matter what resources either a middle class or poorer person has to draw from, most of us are only one catastrophe (or a short string of tragedies) away from ruin. Sometimes we don’t fully appreciate that until we’re stricken, sick, or unemployed.

    Others, still feeling comfortable, don’t appreciate how difficult it can be to rise after taking a fall, especially in late middle age. Do you know I still owe thousands and thousands of dollars in medical debt and fear it will dog me relentlessly? It’s not comforting to know I’m not alone, just as it’s not comforting to you that other people are worse off.

    Our loved ones don’t, I think, always understand that our feelings of despair aren’t about love or family or how much we value both, but about losing our value and sense of place in the larger world. To be 50 and know that our opportunities for employment are growing narrower every year. To be losing our physical integrity and strength. To suddenly be fearful of things that were once far off, like getting old and suddenly having all of our talents and ideas deemed not as useful to others.

    It’s quite the process. It hurts. And I’m sorry you’re going through it.

  3. Bonnie, now you’ve got subscribing to breaking news at the Pioneer Press and the Strib 🙂 I want to be able able to shut down the paper trail before the fuzz comes a-callin’

  4. I scratch my head whenever I see someone with a job who has healthcare at the grace of his or her employer talk like it is something they have earned instead of it being granted to them. I think they have no idea how tenuous their health care is, that it can be taken away with the stroke of an accountant’s pen, that their health and the health of their family straddles that very, very thin blue line. We don’t need “death panels.” We already have them.

    I used to work in Human Resources. Health care options came down to what the budget was that came from the board or the owners. Period. We had to buy health insurance for all the employees within that number. And if we saved some money, we managers would get a bonus. It was a sick system. All that crap you hear about how HR argues for being able to compete in the marketplace for the best employees by having the better benefits, etc, etc is all crap. They flexed with salary and vacation days, but health benefits were written in stone and nobody ever cared about those details, as long as the salary was high enough. Make no mistake, managers always got bonuses.

    To set up a system that loses your job because you get sick and then lose your health care because you lose your job is lunacy! To have an entire class of citizen seriously considering denying themselves medical care so their family won’t become destitute should they fall ill is nutty. But that is what we have.

    I shudder to think how many people have killed themselves because they saw the choice of worth based on money alone. It is the culture we have. If you can make someone money, you are worthy enough to live. If not, please crawl over there in the corner and die. Cumulative life achievement be damned.

  5. Bonnie, I think you need to stay away from my wife before she gets any ideas 🙂

    Rufus: Just happened to come across your blog from a comment you posted on another site about gratitude and this post just struck a chord – I’m rapidly approaching retirement age and the prospect worries me because we’re all one financial crisis away from ruin. Even my bond portfolio has taken a beating and I’m just at a loss for what to do.

    On the bright side, I don’t have to worry about my kids funding my medical expenses when they come up – dual citizenship means when I have problems, I’m moving to Canada.

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