I have an iphone.
Like a lot of parents, my iphone is perpetually out of storage because it is filled to overflowing with pictures of my kid. Like a lot of parents, I check social media on my phone during long days with said child, when I get bored of the endless toddler games of “look I put a truck in the pretend kitchen” and “look I put a truck on the piano” and “would you believe it there is a truck on your arm!” Like a lot of parents, I text my spouse when she’s at work and I’m having a bad day, anything from “oh my god this is the fourth poop today” to “he is begging to go outside and it is so cold” to “this child is the only thing in the universe that makes this worth it.”
It is an iphone 4, and it is used. It was a gift from a friend when my previous iphone 4 died. I couldn’t afford a brand new phone, but I needed a phone, and she was upgrading (I think to a 5 or a maybe a 6, which I believe she purchased used). My service provider charges me between twenty six and forty dollars a month, depending on how much I use the thing.
My life wouldn’t go without this phone. Its front button is broken, and so I have a lot of weird work-arounds to make it functional. My family does not have a landline. I live in a city with spotty public transportation, and when I’m out, I often need to have my phone with me for tracking the busses (the tracker does not always work, but I almost always need it and sometimes it does work) and to be able to contact someone or call a cab if the busses just never come. In addition to that, I’m a writer, and I often type up first drafts of certain projects on my phone when I can’t use my laptop (this happens more than you might think, when you factor in the toddler). I use my phone to read and respond to work related emails. My family relies on my income as a writer to pay our bills and survive. I also use the phone to contact loved ones, contact our landlord, and even help manage my insomnia.
And my entire family is on Medicaid, my wife and I only because of the Medicaid expansion that came with the affordable care act. And that insurance has literally saved my life. Twice.
I am working as hard as I can, as much as I can, to make money for my family. I have the cheapest possible phone that will meet my needs. I’m not trying to prove that I’m a model poor person here, people can have whatever phones they want. If a poor person has the newest iphone, I don’t think that means they don’t deserve to go to the doctor. And many many people have explained that the price of a new iphone is still much lower than the annual cost of healthcare, that’s not up for debate.
But I do want to mention that I know a whole lot of poor people, and while most of us have phones, and many of us have iphones, I don’t know a single poor person with the new iphone. And even for those of us doing the whole having-a-phone-thing (and you know, a connection to the outside world, a way to make doctor’s appointments, a way to call my mother) as cheaply as possible, it doesn’t magically mean we can afford the actual cost of healthcare, which also happens to be a cost that rich people are never expected to pay. Once upon a time, I believed in the myth of the good poor person. I believed that if I was just frugal and careful, I would never need help. The problem was people expecting luxuries, I thought. The probably was people not spending their money more wisely. The problem was people not working hard enough.
I am tired of working hard and being wise. I am tired of constantly worrying about money. I am tired of living with the knowledge that I am going to lose my insurance because of selfish rich men who don’t care whether I live or die. And I won’t accept the blame for that. I won’t pretend any longer that the problem is somehow me, that income disparity isn’t by design, that paying people less than they can live off of isn’t theft. I won’t do complex magical thinking to to convince myself that hey, if only we didn’t occasionally break down and order a damn pizza, maybe I could have afforded to pay for my own gallbladder surgery.
If you stand at a bus stop in January waiting for a bus that might not come — with people who cannot afford a car, or insurance, or gas to put in that car… people who also cannot afford to lose their job if the bus doesn’t show, but they’re going to anyway — you will see a lot of cell phones. Some of them are smart phones. Some of them look fancy. Some of them are like mine, half broken, but kind of work. Some of them are flip phones. Some of them are the free phones they sometimes hand out from booths on the sidewalk. All of those people holding those phones, they all deserve basic human dignity, they all deserve to go to the doctor when they need to.
It’s worth mentioning that the same people who insist that poor people could afford the cost of healthcare if they just lived without every single nice thing in the universe are the same people fighting to keep the minimum wage low, fighting to block unions, fighting to keep anything down that might make our lives better.
It isn’t about iphones. They just think we deserve to die. They think I deserve to die.