My dad was self-employed and the money he earned came in and out at a mostly equal rate. I wasn't privy to all the money struggles, but even as a child I knew my mom held her breath a couple of times a month and prayed for enough abundance to cover bills.
I experienced that same breathlessness in early adulthood after I moved away to college. People who say college will be the best years of one's life didn't see my bank account or how hard I juggled to keep the tuition-food-rent balls in motion. That hasn't changed for a lot of college kids, who now juggle against the backdrop of higher tuition and rent and everything else.
The balls are still in motion. After a severe medical crisis, my husband and I have done some juggling in our mid-adult years. I've also watched how dicey things are financially at times for extended family and friends. It doesn't take that much to kick off a financial crisis: a lost job or a costly injury easily starts the process.
For lower-income families — including some that work way harder than most to afford the basics — the financial roller coaster ride must seem endless, complete with twists, turns and some nausea.
Meanwhile, cretins crawl through aspects of our lives, nesting in our email and slithering down our phone lines to see if they can snag our identities or assets, and the ladder most of us are trying to build to some financial security may be surprisingly rickety and vulnerable.
At tax time, I'm anxious to see if all will be well or if someone has hijacked one of our identities. For the past several years, I have learned of every significant data breach not from the news, but by personal messages saying my data was part of the breach. A loved one, in her early 20s, has had personal information snagged repeatedly. One employer inadvertently provided all its personal payroll information to someone who successfully phished for it. That included her social security number. That was just the first time she was compromised. A doctor's office and credit bureau also both failed to secure information they demanded but didn't protect.
We accept thieves exist and try to protect ourselves. What feel like betrayals, though, are the actions by elected representatives that hurt, rather than help consumers, and the anything-for-a-buck practices of some businesses and financial institutions. Bad actors are not make-believe: We're still all smarting some from the not-so-long-past recession in which financial behemoths "too big to fail" fleeced trusting consumers.
In the midst of all this, consumers need both help and some protection. And by consumers, I mean rich guys with lots on the line as well as people who work two jobs to provide the basics and college kids who can't picture ever having a really decent job and a mortgage, because employment stability is challenging and housing costs make them cry.
I mean all of us.
Deregulation is often good for businesses, but we should be very careful that each piece is good for consumers, too; that it doesn't make the average consumer more vulnerable in a world where predators are hard to spot.
The job of protecting consumers starts with the consumers themselves. Clearly, we should be wary and informed. But it is also the responsibility of lawmakers. It's the job of the Consumer Protection Bureau and various government agencies at different levels designed to be watchdogs. They should be strengthened, not weakened.
Americans should resist any efforts to relax penalties and oversight that make the average taxpayer more vulnerable to predatory practices. We should fight for penalties that discourage those practices. As the ways people can be bilked multiply in this age of hackers and sophisticated, sometimes institutionalized chicanery, we need all the help they can get.