Monday, June 20, 2011

Why I Live Where I Do, The Upside of My Location

After my post about how socialized medicine isn't the cure all for financial issues, within which I expounded upon what I viewed were some of the financial issues that came hand in hand with socialized medicine where I live, I got mixed reactions, varying from:
  • "Penny, this is one of the best posts you've done" (exact quote from an email a reader sent to me).
  • "That is false! You aren't portraying true information; you're stating incorrect views as facts."
  • "You're besmirching my country! How dare you! You conveniently left out all the great things about living here!"
  • "If things are so bad where you live, why don't you move to the US?"
  • "Don't knock free health insurance. You'd be thinking otherwise if you were living without insurance and had an emergency."
I am completely not surprised about this wide range of reactions, because socialized medical care and finances in general are a very touchy subject.
Today, I would like to deal with 4/5 of those reactions. (No need to talk further about the positive reactions.)

The financial positives about where I live.
Why I don't move to the US
Facts vs opinions
Health insurance

Before I get into anything, I felt it important to talk about facts vs opinions.
Some of the stuff I said on my last post was certainly opinion, like where I said I think its easier to be poor in the US. There's no way to prove that, that is just opinion, for example. But other things in the post I wrote about finances here got shot down by some locals who claim that what I said is completely untrue.
Its interesting, how two people can live in the same general area, and each of them say diametrically opposed things, and both claim them as facts.
You see, I honestly don't believe that there are very many (if any) completely irrefutable facts. Even "facts" that are reported in text books, the media, blogs, wherever, aren't always completely factual. Things are reported with a bias- two different news sources, for example, on opposite ends of the political spectrum, will state the same situation/event with a completely different slant, yet both of them will claim to be reporting facts. Scientific studies are done, but when an organization is sponsoring the study, how can one be certain that there wasn't a bias, a push to prove one theory over another? Often you have a study that comes out and "proves" something "100%", and then another study comes and "proves" the exact opposite.
I think, at best, there are strong hypothesis and opinions in most cases, but when it comes to stating that something is a fact, you'll very frequently get people disagreeing with you, because proving that something is a fact is very hard to do, if not impossible.
In addition to all that, human nature is to be biased. When you read studies, research information, its hard to not let your own experience and the experience of those you frequently come into contact with, affect how you interpret what you see. So even if I say something that based on my experience and the experience of people I know, I know to be true, especially if it is a generalization in any way, other people with different experiences can very possibly tell me I'm wrong, that their experience tells them otherwise. Who's right? Are they? Am I? I don't think that question is even possible to answer.
But I do want to say that regarding my previous post, I did research the topic thoroughly beforehand. I read lots of articles and statistics published on the news, on the census bureau, spoke to many people in many different circles to get their opinion and their own story, before writing what I did. I didn't just pull opinions out of a hat, but as I said before, perhaps my own experience clouds how I am interpreting what I read. Who knows.
I would link to the studies and articles I referenced, but as I keep my location private for many reasons, I can't post those links or it would give away my location. But trust me, those links definitely are there (and if you know where I live and would like to see the links, send me an email and I'll gladly send it your way).
Two specific points that aren't arguable at all, not personal opinion at all, is that one in four people in my country are living below the extremely low poverty line. The poverty line is based on median income, not on livability, and since the median income isn't so high, the poverty line is very very low. Even many people above the poverty line can have a really hard time managing financially and are absolutely forced to be frugal if they want to not starve or be homeless.
Another is that according to the banks, 70% of the country is in overdraft or in debt (not including mortgage). That, again, isn't arguable. And that would go to show that even the people that may look like they're living it up and are middle or upper class are quite possibly not, but putting on a show and living above their means.

So, that said, why do I live here? What are the pluses of living where I do?

Medical Care. One of the biggest pluses of living where I do, is obviously the fact that I have national health insurance coverage and don't have to worry about being able to afford medical care. Most things necessary are covered by insurance, and whatever copays we need to pay on top of everything else don't strain the budget much. (Of course, there are medications and medical supplies- like epipens- that aren't really covered by insurance, which you need to pay for out of pocket, in addition to certain life saving procedures/surgeries, that cannot be done here and you need to fly abroad and pay cash to get them done.)
For the most part, I do take the socialized health insurance for granted, but I am sure that if I had a chronic medical condition, life threatening medical condition, or infertility (infertility treatments are covered in my country), I'd appreciate it much more.
That said, based on our life circumstances, I don't ever expect to be "high income", and even if I lived in the US, I still think that in most cases we would be eligible for government assistance for medical care, which I probably wouldn't use, but would appreciate having as a back up in case of emergencies. (I don't glorify going on government assistance, but if someone is eligible, I do think a parent should take advantage of it for the sake of their children. There is no need to be a martyr.)

Schooling. Though I plan on homeschooling my kids, one of the big benefits of living where I do for many people is that there is a wide range of available types of public schools that can meet many different needs of children. Parents that in the US might feel pressured to lay out lots of money each year on expensive private schools because the public school system in their area doesn't suit their needs are much more likely to find public schools here that suit their needs, saving them quite a lot of money.
While I plan on homeschooling my kids, who knows what will happen in the future, and its nice to know that there is a wide range of types of available public schools, should I decide to send my kids to school.

Decent Public Transportation. Because we don't have a car, I really, really, really appreciate the decent public transportation in my country, and public transportation just gets better and better each year, in my opinion. Being able to rely on public transportation, while inconvenient at times, helps us save so many thousands of dollars each year, especially now that gas prices around the globe are reaching record levels.

Heating. In many part of the US, I know that heating the home in the winter is not just a luxury (like it is where I live), but an absolute necessity if you don't want to freeze to death. This would definitely be an added large expense that we'd have if we lived anywhere in the Northern States, that we don't currently have.

Those are more general things about why living where I do saves money, but there are further reasons why we (our family) live where we do and don't move to the US now.

For the record, we have very seriously considered moving to the US, and haven't reached a final conclusion on the matter, but for now, we're here. It is very possible that at some point in the future we will move to the US, because I feel that that is the best way for our family to snap out of the poverty cycle (via our children) (for reasons I can't elaborate on here) but who knows what the future will bring?

So what is keeping us from moving to the United States?

Money. Making an international move is dreadfully expensive. It would mean paying for tickets for our family of 4 to fly abroad. It would mean paying to move our things, or paying to furnish and stock a house from scratch, both of which are pricey propositions.

Green Card. My husband is not an American citizen. Our children are, and I am, but if we were to move to the US, my husband would need to get a Green Card. As far as I know from a family member who recently did that, this often involves lawyers and can amount to a few thousand dollars. On top of that, if I recall correctly, my husband wouldn't be allowed to work in the US for at least 6 months after moving there, leaving the onus of supporting the family on me, or leaving us with no income for 6 months. In addition to all that, I'm pretty sure we'd need either a sponsor or have saved up enough money before we move to prove that we have enough money so that my husband wouldn't be a drain on the American economy.
All of which takes money.
Which we don't have right now.
But we are saving up money now, so maybe in the future these two points will be taken care of.

Family. All the members of my immediate family live locally. Almost all of my husband's immediate family lives locally. (By locally, I mean within 3 hours of traveling time by bus.) If we moved to the US, depending on where we moved, we most likely wouldn't have any family there.
Family is important, in my opinion. For emotional reasons, for the most part. I want my kids to grow up knowing their relatives, to grow up knowing that there are people out there who love them and care about them, and that these people are part of their lives. If we lived abroad, I'd probably feel pressure to spend money on tickets abroad, or to fly relatives in to visit us, at least every few years, which can definitely be an added expense.
Family nearby also helps financially. I have a free babysitter when issues arise; for example, my local family members helped by taking care of Lee when his little brother, Ike, was in the hospital a year and a half ago with pneumonia.

English. This ties into the next point, but my husband, while a native English speaker, grew up in a country who's primary language is one other than English. Because of this, he learned to read and write the local language much better than he can read and write English. (He was never formally taught English. He picked up spoken English at home, but had to teach himself to read and write. He can read English, but slowly, and his English writing skills are probably on par with those of a 5th grader.) These English skill issues can very possibly affect his ability to get a job and just get by in general in the US. (Those same issues affect me where we're living now, as my spoken grasp of the local language is much better than my reading or writing.)

Job Options. Because of many, many, many reasons I can't/don't care to elaborate on now, my husband is limited in what types of jobs he can do. He doesn't have a degree, and that limits what he can do for a living. The field that my husband is currently in, is enjoying, and has experience in is not nearly as widespread in the US as it is where we live now, which would mean he'd have to find something else to do to support our family.

Location Issues. We also have specific needs for our family regarding places to live, and that means we can't just pick any place in the US that is cheap and move there. We have certain requirements as to where we can live, and many of those places that suit our needs tend to be higher cost of living areas. Its possible that we would be able to find what we'd need in a cheaper place, but then I'd worry that those cheaper places would be so far out that there wouldn't be many job options, and it would be hard for my husband to find a job to support us.

Similar Values. I've also come to term with the fact that we'll probably always be on the lower end of the income scale, which would make us only be able to afford living in a very cheap area. Because in my country there are so many people living in poverty, there are many relatively low cost of living areas to live in that we can pick a place to live where the people there, for the most part, share our basic core values, which is helpful. I'm not sure how easily I'd be able to find a dirt cheap community of people in the US with whom I'd enjoy associating with on a regular basis.

Less Peer Pressure. Again, because so many people here are struggling financially, I don't feel pressure from people to spend above my means to "keep up with the Joneses". In fact, my friends and I have joked that in my community, there is pressure to "keep down with the Joneses", that people feel guilty to spend money on extraneous things because they realize that so many others in the area are struggling just to feed their family.
Get togethers with friends don't usually involve going to Starbucks or spending money on frivolous things here; people where I live understand that there isn't much extra money available, so get togethers usually involve meeting up at the park with the kids, getting together for a discussion on a certain topic, pot lucks with themes, or other events in people's homes.
I don't feel embarrassed telling my friends here "I can't afford x", because if I do, I know they'll only commiserate, because they can't afford y. I don't feel like "the poor one" and I don't think anyone pities me, because everyone here is struggling. I don't know how I'd feel if people thought we were the charity case if we lived in the US.
The standard of living where I live is much lower than it is in the US among "my crowd" of people. Because the norm here is much lower, I don't pine away for things that may be considered necessities in the US, because its totally normal to not have them here. I don't know if I or my kids be so complacent about not having those very same things if all our peers in the US would have them.

I feel that after my last post on the topic, I definitely needed to show the other side. There absolutely are many benefits about living where I do, and I'm not itching to move to the US immediately. The main point of my last post, that maybe wasn't so clear, is that socialized medicine is not the absolute cure for financial issues, as there are many, many, many other issues at play.

One thing I want to say is that when I say "Where I live" or "here" I am not always talking about my country as a whole. In some cases, I am, and in other cases, I am talking about my region of the country, at least based on what I've seen.

I hope I've accomplished my goal, to show you that I do appreciate many things about where I live, and also satisfactorily answered your questions about why I don't move to the US, at least right now.

What are the biggest pluses about where you live? What are the biggest drawbacks about where you live? Have you thought about moving elsewhere? If so, why? If you haven't moved, what is keeping you where you are?

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