Working at a third world job and trying to survive in the wealthiest economy in the world just isn't working out. A friend of mine works part-time in a book store, spending the rest of her time living with and helping ill parents who are barely making ends meet because of all the confusion and expenses of health-related problems, problems that no other industrialized country, other than South Africa and America, incurs on their elderly.

My friend's part-time job in the bookstore offers no hospitalization, so she is spending $550.00 a month for her personal health coverage through Cobra which she signed up for when she left her old job to come to Florida to help her parents. She could go without health care and take a chance, but at fifty years old, she doesn't want to end up in an emergency room where she would probably be treated worse than many fufu dogs are treated down here in Florida at the posh veterinarian clinics.

I don't know how much she is being paid at the bookstore, but I would imagine it is in the $8.00 an hour range, about what part time people down here in Florida are typically paid by companies that don't offer health care to part-time employees. So she is probably clearing about $13,000.00 a year working 30 hours a week.

Her cobra is costing $6600.00 a year, so she is netting about $6400.00 -- a year. That's about $126.00 a week that she takes home. Typically, a car payment is $200.00 per month, car maintenance and insurance another $100.00, rent $800.00, food about $300.00, and gas about $50.00, electricity about $100.00, phone $50.00, cable service $42.00, Internet connection $25.00, clothes $50.00, doctor's visits, dentist's visits, and haircuts, another $100,00, and many other things I can't think of- another $200.00.

That comes to about $2000.00 a month, living frugally. No vacations, no big SUVs, no entertainment, no eating out - a long way from the $126.00 a week that she is taking home. Luckily, she is living with her parents again, even though at her age she would love her own place, but she can't see that happening for a long while. But my friend is lucky; what if she were a single mom with three kids?

In the meantime, companies and conglomerates are raking in the cash – the oil companies, the communication companies, the food stores, the utility companies; they are all raising prices almost daily to keep smiles on their stockholder's faces. Every which way my friend turns, prices are going up, but not her paltry wages.

Somethin's gotta give, because my friend is not an isolated case in middle America. Many down here in Florida are facing even more dire circumstances. Auto dealers are experiencing customers driving their almost new cars, SUVs and trucks up to the showroom window and leaving the keys on the hood. People are leaving their homes with the keys in the door. People are just leaving. Taxes are skyrocketing, homeowners insurance is going through the roof, and when people lose their jobs, what alternative do they have? Many have been living from check to check in an atmosphere of low wages and spiraling expenses, and when a check is missed, the dominoes begin toppling.

But this is only the tip of the iceberg. If consumer spending grinds to a halt, which is arguably 60% of our economy, our economic house of cards will grind to a halt as well. Already mortgage companies and banks are being baled out by the Fed because they can't satisfy calls for cash. The mortgages that are not being paid are killing them. And each time the Fed bails someone out, more money is being printed and inflation increases, meaning that the dollar plummets.

A plummeting dollar, recession, inflation, and bank failures spell one thing; depression, and it could easily happen and happen quickly. I'm afraid that a depression in America would take the rest of the world with it as well, because the rest of the world has copied our economic model and has built their houses of cards in the same way.

But whatever happens, whether we collapse or quickly pull out of this downturn, the fact remains that we are competing in a world economy now. If China can produce goods and services cheaper than we can, they will get the business. It's not rocket science. China has the population, the land, and the resources to become a great power, and until their standard of living rises up to ours, our standard of living must sink to theirs. The world is too small now for any advantage going to any country for long. China has the potential to become more powerful than ten Japans.

If this all comes to pass, we in America had better figure out how we will cope with a sinking standard of living. If things continue on course, many will be out in the streets with no health care, no housing, no jobs, and no hope. Therefore, it would seem prudent to look ahead and see what can be done to provide our people with the basics during this potential coming adjustment to our lifestyles.

Food, medicine, and shelter are the basics. It doesn't have to be state of the art, or the "Best Health Care System in the World." Just doctors who care about people more than their expensive cars, and drug companies that truly want to cure people, rather than enhance their own bottom lines. And HMOs that want to help everyone, not just the "good" risks. That's all it will take, caring about the other person instead of only ourselves for a change. The old "Trickle Down" theory that if we all become rich enough, the poor will get the crumbs from our tables doesn't wash any longer.

It will now have to be trickle up. We must make sure that the poorest of the poor have the basics, and hope that caring in this manner will trickle up to provide our country with a new value system, a system whereby we look out for each other and grow spiritually instead of growing materially.

Because we may never be able to grow materially again like we have in the past. And that might be a god thing.

(Oops, I meant a "good" thing!)

Author's Bio: 

E. Raymond Rock of Fort Myers, Florida is cofounder and principal teacher at the Southwest Florida Insight Center, His twenty-nine years of meditation experience has taken him across four continents, including two stopovers in Thailand where he practiced in the remote northeast forests as an ordained Theravada Buddhist monk. His book, A Year to Enlightenment (Career Press/New Page Books) is now available at major bookstores and online retailers. Visit