The Wealth of Resources An assistant professor of Political Science at Johns Hopkins University shares a recent string of events that left him and his family falling on hard times.
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The Wealth of Resources

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The Wealth of Resources

The Wealth of Resources

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TONY COX, host:

This is NEWS & NOTES. I'm Tony Cox.

Now, commentator Lester Spence tells how middle class privilege saved his family after events that could have left them living hand-to-mouth.

Professor LESTER SPENCE (Political Science, Johns Hopkins University): Throughout many of my commentaries, I've talked about the position of the middle class, about how many of the things Americans had previously taken for granted - the ability to pay for their children's college tuition, the ability to buy a house and sell it at a profit, the ability to be taken care of in the case of emergency - were coming to an end.

I came face to face with that reality myself over the last few months. I call it living precariously with an asterisk. One late, late Saturday night -technically Sunday morning - I was driving from the office. I was barely 50 yards away from the campus when I was broadsided by an oncoming car. My car -totaled.

Fortunately, I was okay. No broken bones. My life didn't flash before me, but the only car we had was gone. We were able to get by without a car for a while. One of my fraternity brothers worked at an auto dealer, and he was able to lend us a brand new car for 10 days while we try to get back on our feet.

But no more than two weeks after my own accident, four of my children were themselves in an accident. A friend drove them to the YMCA and her car malfunctioned in traffic. The car tipped over onto another car, totaling it in the process. My children, my friend and her children were bruised and battered, and they spent the day - and in two cases - the night in the hospital. We racked up thousands of dollars in medical and automobile expenses, and even though auto insurance covered both accidents, it took months to kick in.

Because I'm a professor, I only have to be at school on the day I teach. So I didn't miss work. I just spent a lot of time working from home and took a bus when I really needed to. Because of my fraternity connections, I had the use of a brand new car with an offer of more time to use it if I really needed it.

And because of my family and my friends, we were able to get food dropped off to us when we needed it. We were to get two cars for the price of one cheap one, and my kids didn't really miss a beat. Basically, we did not have to worry about losing my job, our home and possibly our kids in the process. If it is at all possible to be blessed having had to deal with two serious car accidents in two weeks, then we are that.

I talked earlier about the new reality, about living precariously with an asterisk. Imagine if I had to work a job that required that I be present and on time everyday, if we didn't have friends and family with resources they could share, if I didn't live just a short bus ride away from work, if we didn't have compassionate landlords - even though no one was seriously hurt, these two accidents would have been catastrophic.

My class status, the fact that I'm a professional - as are most of my friends and family - is what ultimately protected me. But people without the connections I have should be protected as well. No one should have to live precariously with or without an asterisk because of a car accident - in our case, two.

On some level, we know that poor and working class citizens are in a precarious position themselves. We may choose to ignore it by living as far away from them as we can or blaming the problems they have on their lack of home training. But we choose to ignore it at our peril. We've got a chance to elect a president coming up. This issue, protecting families from risk and harm, should be first and foremost on all the candidates' agendas.

COX: Lester Spence is an assistant professor of political science at Johns Hopkins University.

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