Archive for Saturday, July 30, 2011

Falling into poverty: Economic setbacks make Lawrence couple, like many Americans, lose security, gain fear

July 30, 2011


Lawrence couple struggles through financial hardship

A local couple going through a time of financial hardship talks about how they are getting by with assistance from local food banks. Enlarge video

Dodie Coker casts an expression of concern as her husband Roy talks about the couple's financial troubles and his concerns about losing their house, Tuesday, July 19, 2011, in their Lawrence home.

Dodie Coker casts an expression of concern as her husband Roy talks about the couple's financial troubles and his concerns about losing their house, Tuesday, July 19, 2011, in their Lawrence home.

Roy and Dodie Coker pick through the vegetables available at the Just Food warehouse Monday, July 25, 2011. The couple say this is the first time they have been pushed to accepting food from a food bank.

Roy and Dodie Coker pick through the vegetables available at the Just Food warehouse Monday, July 25, 2011. The couple say this is the first time they have been pushed to accepting food from a food bank.

The unemployment rate for Douglas County from 2006 to 2011, which has risen from 3.4% in 2006 to 6.4% in 2011. The numbers for each year are for May, except for 2011, which displays the July numbers. Statistics taken from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The unemployment rate for Douglas County from 2006 to 2011, which has risen from 3.4% in 2006 to 6.4% in 2011. The numbers for each year are for May, except for 2011, which displays the July numbers. Statistics taken from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

It wasn’t supposed to be like this.

Roy and Dorothy “Dodie” Coker raised children in Lawrence, worked for years at local businesses, and for 17 years steadily paid the mortgage on their home on Pawnee Street.

Roy, 58, and Dodie, 61, should be slowing down, getting ready for retirement, enjoying weekends with their three grown children and spoiling their four grandchildren.

Instead, the Cokers are learning their way around the local social service system, scratching and clawing to pay the bills.

They’ve been to an area food pantry for the first time, filled out applications at SRS, and begun selling possessions — all with the goal of not losing their home.

“My expectation is that my next address will be the homeless shelter,” Roy said.

The couple is one of many trying to prevent the growing threat of “situational poverty” plaguing people across the country, said Donna Beegle, a poverty researcher and educator.

“That’s really our latest epidemic,” she said.

The Cokers are finding out the hard way that it’s getting more difficult to live the lifestyle they’re accustomed to. This year, they’ll probably join the 20 percent of Douglas County residents who fall under the poverty level — about $14,000 for a couple.

That’d just about cover the mortgage, but not much else. Add in some unfortunate events — such as health problems — and a couple like the Cokers barely have a chance in today’s economy.

‘Black cloud’

On a recent weekday, Roy hobbled around his home as he and Dodie prepared for their second visit to the food bank.

“It was a rough night,” said Roy, referring to another sleepless evening, because of a hernia on his left side that needs surgery.

He popped another pain pill and steadied himself for the trip to the Just Food pantry. They’ve already received their allotted monthly bag of food from the pantry, but they can stop by whenever they need to, to pick up fresh produce and bread.

The financial troubles the couple face trickled in, culminating with a bankruptcy filing last year. The troubles are now showering down on them, threatening their home and mental stability.

“Nothing’s working out right,” Roy said.

Roy had worked for Kmart Distribution Center for 22 years, but lost that job earlier this year.

He found part-time work as a stocker at a local business, making $9 an hour. He worked there for about a month, but during one of his shifts in June, Roy lifted some boxes and felt a sharp pain in his stomach. Off work for two days, his employer sent him to the worker health clinic the company participates in at Lawrence Memorial Hospital. Doctors told him he had a hernia and would need surgery.

Are you among those living on the brink?

From Census figures and other data, here are some estimates for the cost of living.

• Median housing cost in Douglas County each month, including rent/mortgage, utilities, insurance and taxes: $1,423.

• Monthly food costs for family of four: $972

• National average adult monthly debt payments (credit cards and student loans): $211

• National average per-person credit card debt: $5,100

• Monthly cost of having a vehicle, including payments, gasoline, insurance, repairs: $609

• Annual health insurance premium: $4,824 for one person, $13,375 for a family.

• Estimated total monthly cost for a family: $4,330

• Average Douglas County family median income: $5,416, before taxes.

His employer has 90 days through workers’ compensation laws to determine whether the injury was job-related, leaving Roy in a painful holding pattern. The Cokers have health insurance from his past job through COBRA, but that will run out by the time the 90 days is up in August. So, Roy waits for the medical treatment, and isn’t able to work. He said he’s skeptical about what the determination of the workers’ compensation claim will be. He said his employer has repeatedly brushed off his phone calls.

Priority No. 1 for the couple, Dodie said, is Roy’s health.

“He needs to get that operated on,” said Dodie, who has health problems of her own.

She had a hysterectomy earlier this year because of the discovery of some pre-cancerous cells. She recovered, but a few weeks ago some friends, aware of the couple’s struggles, offered to take her to a movie to cheer her up. At the movie, Dodie slipped, breaking her elbow and spraining her ankle.

“There’s a black cloud over my head,” she said.

Since the injury, she’s been off work from her part-time job at Children’s Learning Center. Despite her injuries, she’ll be going back to work soon, and said her employer has made arrangements to accommodate her injuries.

At this point, the couple need “some money coming in,” she said.

Dodie receives nearly $800 a month in retirement from a previous job. Roy isn’t bringing in any income. Even with Dodie working part time, it’ll be difficult to cover the $1,100 monthly mortgage. Then there’s the medical bills, piling up on their kitchen table. Going to the mailbox is now a dreaded daily chore.

Between the two of them, they’ve racked up thousands in medical bills.

Not alone

It’s unknown how many families like the Cokers are at risk of losing their home locally or across the country. But the numbers hint that the Cokers are probably joined by millions of other Americans.

The causes are wide, varied and systemic, Beegle said, citing high unemployment, the housing and credit crunch, and few safety nets for people in the Cokers’ situation.

The Cokers were unable to make their mortgage payment for the first time in June, and there doesn’t seem to be any program out there to fill that gap. Roy has insurance on the home that could lower his payment temporarily in case he is injured at work, but his employer has refused to fill out the paperwork, he said.

In visits to social service agencies, they’ve found no quick fix. There are some programs available, but the couple doesn’t seem to fit neatly into any of the criteria for housing assistance.

Charlotte Knoche, director of housing assistance for the Lawrence-Douglas County Housing Authority, spoke about some options for the couple, such as rental assistance — if the couple lose their home — for people over age 50. The problem: a nine-month to two-year waiting list.

Many of the available programs are also small in scale, such as utility assistance and housing rehabilitation, said Margene Swarts, city of Lawrence community developer manager and coordinator of the Community Commission on Homelessness. But large-scale assistance isn’t as available, making homelessness a real threat for people like the Cokers.

“I hear more and more about how many homeless families we see,” Swarts said.

In Douglas County, the number of home foreclosures — what the Cokers hope to avoid — has skyrocketed. In 2006, there were 84 homes in Douglas County auctioned because of foreclosure. In 2010, that number jumped to 214.

Sally Bartlett, supervising case manager at the Lawrence Community Shelter, said the shelter sees a few families who are homeless for the first time. With the current economic climate, Bartlett said there’s a real concern that more will follow in coming months and years.

While Kansas and Douglas County have kept unemployment rates below national numbers, the area has seen a marked increase since May 2006, when the rate was 3.4 percent. In May of this year, the unemployment rate was 5.7 percent.

Roy doesn’t expect to return to his job stocking, as the hernia has already showed him the work is probably too much for his age. When he’s healthy, he’s hoping to find work somewhere, anywhere, he said.

Waiting game

Until Roy hears back about the workers’ compensation claim, he has no income. He can’t work until the hernia is fixed, which can’t be done until the claim is settled.

He’s sold his truck. He and Dodie now share her 2006 Toyota Camry.

They’ve told few friends or family about their economic troubles.

“I’m embarrassed,” Dodie said.

She and Roy are still trying to come to grips with needing help.

“I’d rather be a giver than a taker,” Roy said.

Recently, a neighbor gave Roy $100 to help pay the utility bills. They didn’t want to accept the gift, but had no choice.

“You do what you have to do,” said Dodie, who talked about one day — when they’re back on their feet — donating to the food pantry that has helped them. “I’m grateful for what’s out there.”

After taking out two mortgages, the couple are in a tough position with their home. They owe about as much as it’s worth. At this point, they’ve considered walking away from the home and downsizing to an apartment — something they talk about reluctantly.

Roy talked about all the work he’s put into the house the past 17 years. Dodie talked about raising their kids in the house.

“This is my home,” she said.

Dodie will soon be eligible for Social Security retirement benefits, which she plans to take early at age 62, rather than waiting for the larger monthly payment she could receive at 67.

While they wait, they try to stay positive.

“For a week, (losing the home) is all we talked about,” Dodie said. “It’s driving me crazy.”

Roy said he’s been overwhelmed by the anxiety, sending him into depression — made worse by the waiting. Between the two, Roy is more pessimistic about their prospects, and has called the Lawrence Community Shelter to find out if there’s room for the couple.

“That’s reality,” he said.

Dodie, on the other hand, keeps saying she’ll do whatever it takes to get back on their feet.

When she hears Roy talk about losing the house and moving into a shelter, Dodie says, “Not if I can help it.”


rockchalk1977 2 years, 8 months ago

According to Wikipedia, the ‘absolute poverty line’ is the threshold below which families or individuals are considered to be lacking the resources to meet the basic needs for healthy living. Poverty among Americans between ages 18–64 has fallen only marginally since 1966, from 10.5% then to 10.1% today. Thank you Presidents Roosevelt, Johnson and Obama for wasting trillions of dollars with nothing to show for it.


Kim Murphree 2 years, 8 months ago

Save?? Who has had the money to SAVE??? Ever since the lies of "trickle down economics" most working Americans have had to spend what they have on increasing costs of education, health care (which is appalling in its cost!), fuel (for commuting to more than one job), utilities, insurance, and general goods to keep families fed and clothed. So, then, when later years come and jobs are lost, what shall we do? Shall we let people become homeless and then deny them any place in our community to go? Tell me, how is that possible? People who have paid taxes and raised families right here in Lawrence--do we just sit back and say--you should have done better? You know, I always wonder at this--especially for those who say they are Christian (see Acts 2:38-45 for a clue as to how you are supposed to react). I think this couple has exhibited personal responsibility--I imagine their kids are educated, and raised, and knew that they were loved--and so, now, what? And how many more are feeling this pain? Thanks for writing this Shaun. The reaction sure shows us what kind of people we are, here, in Douglas County.


tomatogrower 2 years, 8 months ago

I wish they would name the employer who is keeping them in limbo with workmans comp. He should be getting that operation soon.


mom_of_three 2 years, 8 months ago

I hope things work out for them. I know how things can come up when you least expect it, no matter how hard you plan. You make enough and pay for braces, broken bones, and whatever kids need, and then you think it will be easier when they grow up. But then the unexpected happens. You go through savings (which you might have hoped to add to since and when you were healthy) and things just start happening. Sometimes, no type of planning can cover what happened to this couple.
I wish them the best of luck.


MattressMan 2 years, 8 months ago

"He found part-time work as a stocker at a local business,"

"Roy has insurance on the home that could lower his payment temporarily in case he is injured at work, but his employer has refused to fill out the paperwork, he said."

I'd like to know what this fine upstanding business is that is holding up the wokers comp claim and also wont fill out the paperwork for the mortgage/insurance company. If it is a business I frequent I'd maybe have to look elsewhere to spend my money.


Alceste 2 years, 8 months ago


While most economists recognize that the richest are pulling away, they disagree on what this means. Those who contend that the extraordinary accumulation of wealth is a good thing say that while the rich are indeed getting richer, so are most people who work hard and save. They say that the tax cuts encourage the investment and the innovation that will make everyone better off.

"In this income data I see a snapshot of a very innovative society," said Tim Kane, an economist at the Heritage Foundation. "Lower taxes and lower marginal tax rates are leading to more growth. There's an explosion of wealth. We are so wealthy in a world that is profoundly poor."

But some of the wealthiest Americans, including Warren E. Buffett, George Soros and Ted Turner, have warned that such a concentration of wealth can turn a meritocracy into an aristocracy and ultimately stifle economic growth by putting too much of the nation's capital in the hands of inheritors rather than strivers and innovators. Speaking of the increasing concentration of incomes, Alan Greenspan, the Federal Reserve chairman, warned in Congressional testimony a year ago: "For the democratic society, that is not a very desirable thing to allow it to happen."

Others say most Americans have no problem with this trend. The central question is mobility, said Bruce R. Bartlett, an advocate of lower taxes who served in the Reagan and George H. W. Bush administrations. "As long as people think they have a chance of getting to the top, they just don't care how rich the rich are."

But in fact, economic mobility - moving from one income group to another over a lifetime - has actually stopped rising in the United States, researchers say. Some recent studies suggest it has even declined over the last generation.


Alceste 2 years, 8 months ago

(Cont.):From 1990 to 2002, for every extra dollar earned by those in the bottom 90 percent, each taxpayer at the top brought in an extra $18,000.

President Ronald Reagan signed tax bills that benefited the wealthiest Americans and also gave tax breaks to the working poor. President Bill Clinton raised income taxes for the wealthiest, cut taxes on investment gains, and expanded breaks for the working poor. Mr. Bush eliminated income taxes for families making under $40,000, but his tax cuts have also benefited the wealthiest Americans far more than his predecessors' did.

The Bush administration says that the tax cuts have actually made the income tax system more progressive, shifting the burden slightly more to those with higher incomes. Still, an Internal Revenue Service study found that the only taxpayers whose share of taxes declined in 2001 and 2002 were those in the top 0.1 percent.

But a Treasury spokesman, Taylor Griffin, said the income tax system is more progressive if the measurement is the share borne by the top 40 percent of Americans rather than the top 0.1 percent.

The Times analysis also shows that over the next decade, the tax cuts Mr. Bush wants to extend indefinitely would shift the burden further from the richest Americans. With incomes of more than $1 million or so, they would get the biggest share of the breaks, in total amounts and in the drop in their share of federal taxes paid.

One reason the merely rich will fare much less well than the very richest is the alternative minimum tax. This tax, the successor to one enacted in 1969 to make sure the wealthiest Americans could not use legal loopholes to live tax-free, has never been adjusted for inflation. As a result, it stings Americans whose incomes have crept above $75,000.

The Times analysis shows that by 2010 the tax will affect more than four-fifths of the people making $100,000 to $500,000 and will take away from them nearly one-half to more than two-thirds of the recent tax cuts. For example, the group making $200,000 to $500,000 a year will lose 70 percent of their tax cut to the alternative minimum tax in 2010, an average of $9,177 for those affected.

But because of the way it is devised, the tax affects far fewer of the very richest: about a third of the taxpayers reporting more than $1 million in income. One big reason is that dividends and investment gains, which go mostly to the richest, are not subject to the tax.

Another reason that the wealthiest will fare much better is that the tax cuts over the past decade have sharply lowered rates on income from investments. (Cont.):


Alceste 2 years, 8 months ago

(Cont.): The Times set out to create a financial portrait of the very richest Americans, how their incomes have changed over the decades and how the tax cuts will affect them. It is no secret that the gap between the rich and the poor has grown, but the extent to which the richest are leaving everyone else behind is not widely known.

The Treasury Department uses a computer model to examine the effects of tax cuts on various income groups but does not look in detail fine enough to differentiate among those within the top 1 percent. To determine those differences, The Times relied on a computer model based on the Treasury's. Experts at organizations representing a range of views, including the Heritage Foundation, the Cato Institute and Citizens for Tax Justice, reviewed the projections and said they were reasonable, and the Treasury Department said through a spokesman that the model was reliable.

The analysis also found the following:

¶Under the Bush tax cuts, the 400 taxpayers with the highest incomes - a minimum of $87 million in 2000, the last year for which the government will release such data - now pay income, Medicare and Social Security taxes amounting to virtually the same percentage of their incomes as people making $50,000 to $75,000.

¶Those earning more than $10 million a year now pay a lesser share of their income in these taxes than those making $100,000 to $200,000.

¶The alternative minimum tax, created 36 years ago to make sure the very richest paid taxes, takes back a growing share of the tax cuts over time from the majority of families earning $75,000 to $1 million - thousands and even tens of thousands of dollars annually. Far fewer of the very wealthiest will be affected by this tax.

The analysis examined only income reported on tax returns. The Treasury Department says that the very wealthiest find ways, legal and illegal, to shelter a lot of income from taxes. So the gap between the very richest and everyone else is almost certainly much larger.

The hyper-rich have emerged in the last three decades as the biggest winners in a remarkable transformation of the American economy characterized by, among other things, the creation of a more global marketplace, new technology and investment spurred partly by tax cuts. The stock market soared; so did pay in the highest ranks of business.

One way to understand the growing gap is to compare earnings increases over time by the vast majority of taxpayers - say, everyone in the lower 90 percent - with those at the top, say, in the uppermost 0.01 percent (now about 14,000 households, each with $5.5 million or more in income last year).

From 1950 to 1970, for example, for every additional dollar earned by the bottom 90 percent, those in the top 0.01 percent earned an additional $162, according to the Times analysis. (Cont.):


Alceste 2 years, 8 months ago

From a 2005 New York Times financial pages article:

When F. Scott Fitzgerald pronounced that the very rich "are different from you and me," Ernest Hemingway's famously dismissive response was: "Yes, they have more money." Today he might well add: much, much, much more money.

The people at the top of America's money pyramid have so prospered in recent years that they have pulled far ahead of the rest of the population, an analysis of tax records and other government data by The New York Times shows. They have even left behind people making hundreds of thousands of dollars a year.

Call them the hyper-rich.

They are not just a few Croesus-like rarities. Draw a line under the top 0.1 percent of income earners - the top one-thousandth. Above that line are about 145,000 taxpayers, each with at least $1.6 million in income and often much more.

The average income for the top 0.1 percent was $3 million in 2002, the latest year for which averages are available. That number is two and a half times the $1.2 million, adjusted for inflation, that group reported in 1980. No other income group rose nearly as fast.

The share of the nation's income earned by those in this uppermost category has more than doubled since 1980, to 7.4 percent in 2002. The share of income earned by the rest of the top 10 percent rose far less, and the share earned by the bottom 90 percent fell.

Next, examine the net worth of American households. The group with homes, investments and other assets worth more than $10 million comprised 338,400 households in 2001, the last year for which data are available. The number has grown more than 400 percent since 1980, after adjusting for inflation, while the total number of households has grown only 27 percent.

The Bush administration tax cuts stand to widen the gap between the hyper-rich and the rest of America. The merely rich, making hundreds of thousands of dollars a year, will shoulder a disproportionate share of the tax burden.

President Bush said during the third election debate last October that most of the tax cuts went to low- and middle-income Americans. In fact, most - 53 percent - will go to people with incomes in the top 10 percent over the first 15 years of the cuts, which began in 2001 and would have to be reauthorized in 2010. And more than 15 percent will go just to the top 0.1 percent, those 145,000 taxpayers. (CONT.):


Angie Dick 2 years, 8 months ago

I happen to know these fine folks, have for many years. They are both VERY kind HEARTED and VERY HARD WORKING FOLKS. It breaks my heart to see them in this situation. Dodie is a very strong headed woman and has the heart of pure Gold. Roy would do anything for ya in a heartbeat if he could. They are wonderful people. Let's all pray they can make it through this. I know I am.


parco814 2 years, 8 months ago

Another story confirming that Kansas is the Mississippi of the Midwest, or should I call it Midworst.

On one hand, I value these stories for their thorough investigations and their portraits of good people in complicated, painful situations. On the other, I always have to steel myself for the inevitable victim-blaming swill from the reactionary swine message boarders that delight in pointing out that poor people are poor because they are bad people.

You victim-blamers know who you are. Smug, self-satisfied, useless excuses for human beings. I'd call you cockroaches, but at least cockroaches fulfill a purpose in our biosphere.


akt2 2 years, 8 months ago

Roy might need a work comp attorney. As soon as they determine it is a work comp injury, he will get his medical care. I believe the company will then be obligated to start paying roughly 75% of his wages. If he wants to take it further he can go for a rating when he reaches his maximum medical improvement. That would result in a settlement. And to Jean 1183, braces can be a necessity. Depending on if you are willing to do the right thing for your child. That could mean working extra or making payments to the orthodontist. I personally did not want my child to go through her teen years with crooked, fanged teeth. The payoff for me is that she started high school with a beautiful smile. One less thing for her to be self conscious about. It's called parental responsibility.


Gandalf 2 years, 8 months ago

brownies motto: give them my religion or give them death


Gandalf 2 years, 8 months ago

Ronnie Reagan killed most pension plans back in the 80's. Just as he was supposed to do. bush 2 tried to do the same with SS and failed. Now repub's are still doing their best to defund SS.


edjayhawk 2 years, 8 months ago

Interesting how big business always says they are being taken advantage with in regard to workers compensation. But this article paints a completely different picture that is never brought up by the media.


LadyJ 2 years, 8 months ago

I know of plenty of people who had pension plans only to see them disappear or decrease dramatically through no fault of their own. Ask the State of Kansas about that. Let's not even get into Enron. I have heard of cities that have run out of money to pay their retired employees. Savings can disappear with the loss of insurance, divorce or the loss of a job. I prefer not to pass judgement.


Linda Endicott 2 years, 8 months ago

Saving? Saving what? Far too many people work countless hours just to make ends meet, and there isn't anything left over...and I grew up that way...we frequently didn't have enough even to make ends meet...and no, we didn't go to the social service agencies and get help, or go to family or friends...qutie frankly, poverty doesn't breed friends well, and even if you do have friends, none of them have any money to help you out with, either...

So what did we do? We did without, that's what...we had our electricity turned off more times than I can remember...we had our gas turned off numerous times...and back in those days they didn't have any handy-dandy laws saying they couldn't turn it off if it got too cold out...they didn't give a damn whether you froze to death or not...

And we went without meals...many meals, especially at the end of the month, because no matter how hard my mother tried to make the money last, there just wasn't enough of it...they also didn't have free school lunches back then, so I spent many a day in school with no lunch, and not much for supper when I got home...but somehow, we survived...

Now, I have a job...unfortunately, it's one that relies on state and federal government funding, so you never know when that may come to an end...and yeah, I used to have a 401 (k)...until the company decided they no longer wanted to give us matching contributions, so that ended...I could have kept it going on my own, but with no matching funds, it would have taken me a hundred years to save enough for retirement...

I did put that money in the bank...where it is now earning a whopping .01 something-or-other in interest...big one point in time all the banks around here used to give you 5.25% interest...well, not changed abruptly, and they didn't even notify me when it changed...they didn't notify anyone...and the interest rate probably won't go up anytime soon...gee, those nice banks need to make some profit off of my money, don't they? even though they don't care about giving me a profit off of it...somehow it doesn't seem right, fair, or even legal for them to use my money loaning it out to other people, yet I don't get any compensation for it...

So don't harp at people about not saving...not everyone has a $50,000 a year job...or any money left over to save...

Poverty just sucks, doesn't it?


Gandalf 2 years, 8 months ago

After giving the matter much thought I have come up with ideal solution. Instead of cutting SS, increase it! After all most senior’s are grandparent’s and almost always help out their families.

That would have a two-fold effect. It would enhance the economy and help with SRS expenditure’s.


wsks 2 years, 8 months ago

Christmas bonus? Caribbean trip? Bigger house (on Pawnee)? Some of the assumptions in these comments about squandered money are unreal for many people.

Less of this hard-hearted political posturing, please, and more reality. There are plenty of jobs in Lawrence that pay just enough to get by, without saving--and Lawrence isn't a cheap place to live.

Half of all bankruptcies start with medical bills.

And do Caribbean trips by the super-rich make anything, or create jobs for Americans? Wall Street doesn't make anything at all, and it seems to draw away our jobs just as fast as it drains the nation's wealth.


camper 2 years, 8 months ago

There should be a balance between saving, living within your means, and taking risk. Our way of life is based on taking risk. We do this when we decide to go to college,start a business, when we buy a house, and whenever we take a loan of any sort.

No need to go out and buy a house way more expensive than you can afford, but even if you buy a modest one or bare minimum, you are taking risk. If we did not have this system of risk, we would be a third world economy.


Paul Decelles 2 years, 8 months ago


You know better than to fall into that "blame the victim" routine.


Carol Bowen 2 years, 8 months ago

So, Roy is 58 and lost his job after 22 years. I have to wonder if he was getting too close to collecting retirement benefits. Does KMart practice age discrimination?


handley 2 years, 8 months ago

entitlements to the rich and large corporations, by not paying their fair share is what is bringing this country down. It is just like congress wanting to have a balanced budget on the backs of the middle class. Until large corporations pay taxes employment won't increase.


deec 2 years, 8 months ago

Or perhaps they were blue collar/working class and there was no money left at the end of the month once the basic living expenses were paid. What's the average income in Lawrence? It'd guess around $30K. The assumption that nearly everyone who has no savings for retirement squandered their money during their working life is maddening. Lots of people have no extra money after they take care of the monthly expenses like housing, food and utilities.


BornAgainAmerican 2 years, 8 months ago

Unfortunate circumstances indeed, however, Americans have been living above their means for decades. I have been fortunate (knock on wood) but a significant part of my good fortune comes from not living above my means. It matters not if you make $500K/year or $100K/year. It's not what you make, it's what you save. If the money is spent, in the end, there will be no money. Before someone jumps on me for not knowing the circumstances here. I am quite certain there are those who have had more than their share of bad luck, and I hope they receive some help. However, there are many more who have simply spent everything they have made on a bigger house, a fancier car (maybe 3) and took exotic vacations during their earning years that they really could not afford. Now the chickens are coming home to roost.


camper 2 years, 8 months ago

I know people like (blank). And some of them are the most bitter people I have ever known. They preach this self reliance line as someone mentioned above, but meanwhile have their own issues and receive benefits from both the government and family. And then in the most hypocritical fashion complain about Big Government, Socialisim, Universal Health-Care.....the same hand that feeds them. I'm no psychologist, but there must be some sort of denial going on with them.

The fact is, most of us are one layoff away from losing our home mortgage. One unfortunate turn in health from racking up thousands of dollars in health bills. One tragedy away from losing sanity. None of which can be predicted and not even the best series e bond can cover.

One thing we can do is try to help one another and do our best to elect officials who's priorities are in line with us citizen's priorities. And when people speak untruthfully, call them on it. Base your call on facts. Don't allow them to say untrue things that can catch and contibute to ignorance.


George Lippencott 2 years, 8 months ago

LJW, thank you for an interesting article documenting hardships being experienced by some of our fellow citizens. In the "thred" listed below, I have begun a series of Blogs on the social safety net. See:

Perhaps as part of this article the LJW could determine from our various governments the set of programs for which a family in such circumstances would qualify. I would presume from the discussion, but would like clarification, that unemployment, Medicaid, food stamps, disability, workers compensation, housing assistance and perhaps other programs might be there to help.

In past article the LJW has made real effort to personalize our economic disaster. It seems to me it has done little to document the assistance that all of us make available to individuals in these circumstances – doing a real disservice to all of us paying for those services (or presuming we are). Over to you LJW.


christie 2 years, 8 months ago

It's their own fault for NOT voting Republican... Tax Breaks for the RICH will solve the problem - if only they would have listened.

Oh wait - after 10 years of these tax-breaks for the rich where are all the so-called jobs that was supposed to create???


Jean1183 2 years, 8 months ago

Braces?! Pleeezzzzzzzzzz.....most times braces are NOT a necessity, they are for cosmetic purposes. I could have benefited from braces as a child but my parents could not afford them. I have turned out just fine with crooked teeth and my parents didn't go into debt.


1petadvocate 2 years, 8 months ago

devobrun, you make it clear that you are part of the problem that faces Americans across the country today. In your eyes the hands at the end of your arms were designed for helping yourself, not others. They also tend to vote, and decide in favor of, those that believe the same way. Over time, the un-empathetic and unsympathetic have landed us sitting in front of our news source, hoping that for the first time in history, the people who believe as you do, and have been proven wrong many times, finally come to some agreement to allow our country to continue running. The day will come when some unknown devastation hits you and yours and will be faced with decisions you never imagined you would have to make. That's life. You may believe, in your smug little way, that you are set and ready for such an event. Hopefully, big-business crooks will not have cooked the books and wiped out your pension; you won't lose you job and find insurance companies are no longer on your side, your kids wont need surgery or hospitalization., the rising cost of education won't have you working 2 jobs to send your kids to school, you won't have to work 2 hours just to afford a gallon of gas and a gallon of milk (minimum wage is great, isn't it?), the state you live in won't suddenly cut the funds that keep your job alive.....the list goes on and on. Think about re-thinking your stance; someday, because that's how life is, you will want and need help. The last thing you will find helpful is an all-knowing self-righteous individual standing on his soap box telling you what you should have done. Good luck.


gl0ckUser 2 years, 8 months ago

Kansas Hates poor people. If you want Aid you need to move to Alaska. There are lots of support programs and you can always live off the land !


Moved_On 2 years, 8 months ago

A very sad story. It takes a lot of savings and no debt to feel comfortable approaching retirement.


Les Blevins 2 years, 8 months ago

A viable way to help the underemployed and reverse the SRS closing would be to come up with a new innovative and highly needed service the local SRS office could provide to area residents. A new service the SRS could offer that would earn or save even more money for the state than closing the SRS office would save and at the same time create good jobs for the underemployed . There is an offer I put before Governor Brownback that I believe could do just that, but the Governor hasn't seen fit to even answer the letter which contained this proposal. I say that is an indication of the Governor's position on the matter. I think he must want to harm Lawrence and whip us all into submission. The sad part is our local officials are complacent in this because they are in the same political party as the 'Governor. If local officials want to prevent the Governor from closing the SRS office I doubt they will succeed. On the other hand if local officials want a solution that will not only allow the SRS office to remain open and create more jobs then they should come down off their high horse and agree to discuss my long standing proposal. They should know that innovation is ket to our future.


devobrun 2 years, 8 months ago

This story leaves out a lot that happened to the Cokers over the years. People who have had steady jobs for their lifetime and reach the age of 60 and have not saved.......spent their money. They spent their money on the house, the kids, the truck, the entertainment. They weren't putting $100 or $200 in the bank every month. They didn't put the Christmas bonus in a series e bond in 1978.

Mrs. Coker had a job that yielded a pension. Apparently Kresge didn't force Roy to put money away. If you are 60 and still living hand-to-mouth, you didn't plan ahead.

"After taking out two mortgages, the couple are in a tough position with their home."

People in their 50s should never take out another mortgage on their home. It should be paid off by now. Whatever lifestyle they lived over the past 30 years did not pay off the house. Indeed they took out a second mortgage. Outrageous. They are paying the price for their lack of planning and discipline over the last 30 years.

Shaun Hittle, what is the point of the article? If it was a warning to younger folks that they should plan ahead, then you blew it. If it was to complain that there are no programs to help such people, well get used to it. The government is broke. There will be fewer programs in the future. Way, way fewer programs, folks.

That means that everybody should plan for hard times in the future. No utility programs. No stimulus packages. No Caribbean cruises for you. When that $1500 windfall comes it. Maybe you'll get another one in a coupla years and you can pool the money and refinance the house. Then you can cut your monthly payment by $80 and put that into the bank for just these days.

Shaun, wake up. The government programs are dieing. They have to. The wealth of the U.S. is dwindling and looking to the government for assistance is absolutely the wrong thing to do. It won't happen and decrying the demise of programs is useless.

Oh, and if you did buy a U.S. government bond in 1978? Sell it tomorrow. On Tuesday it might become worthless.


franciservin31 2 years, 8 months ago

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