Updated: 8/15/2012 3:30 PM ET|
Amid affluence, an uncertain future
Up the hill from Port Jefferson Village, well beyond the lively knot of shops and tourists eating frozen yogurt, Main Street winds past houses with office shingles and small parking lots, and by old stone churches with sprawling lawns and well-tended flower gardens.
These churches have been busy the past few years as more people have come in seeking food and other assistance. Many, but not all, live at the top of the hill, past the railroad tracks, where the Village of Port Jefferson officially ends and the community of Port Jefferson Station begins.
There, the street widens and a gray stretch of commerce for the other half emerges: convenience stores, pawnshops, dollar stores and strip malls with bright signs advertising "Check Cashing" and "We Buy Gold."
Just before the railroad tracks, along a short, busy strip of Main Street, sits an Army-Navy surplus store, owned and run by Barbara Sabatino and her brother, Peter Sabatino.
(They had a stationery store until Staples arrived in town and customers started demanding the kind of loss-leader discounts that the big-box stores use. "You know, 'I want this box of paper clips for, say, 10 cents,'" said Barbara Sabatino, laughing.)
As she spoke, the phone rang: It was her insurance agent, calling to explain the details of another not-so-great health plan insurers could offer her. It had been like that for days, she said, ever since her existing individual plan hit its annual rate-hike date and, this year, priced her out.
"In order to make it affordable, I'd have to do things like give up prescriptions," said Sabatino, 59. "Being a pretty healthy person, I'm thinking about it . . . but what if . . . ?"
New York has some of the highest health insurance costs in the country. The state requires that health insurance companies cover sick people -- no excluding applicants with pre-existing conditions -- but it does not mandate, as Massachusetts does, that all residents buy coverage. As a result, fewer people pay into the insurance pool, driving costs up for those who do.
"You know the old adage: Do you buy food for the table, or do take your medicine?" Sabatino said. "I actually know people like that. And that's sad, because we're talking about solid middle-class people who are now running into problems that you only heard about before with low-income people."
Sabatino, who lives in Port Jefferson Village, calls herself a fiscal conservative with a socially liberal mindset. She did not vote for Barack Obama in 2008, but she doesn't think Mitt Romney would do any better.
"I think they're two sides of the same coin. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss," she said. "I was never so disappointed as when Obama got in and he appointed a lot of the same people that Bush had. What the heck?"
Sabatino said she honestly doesn't know how government repairs an economy. But she'd like to hear some concrete ideas. She recalls Obama handing the job to Congress and can't think of Romney offering any plans at all.
That puts her in a quandary: Technically she is an undecided voter who likes neither candidate but would never toss out her vote.
Sabatino does know that a lot of people, even in a fairly well-off town such as Port Jefferson Village, are struggling. There are contractors, electricians, teachers and others who have lost hours. People wander into her store with real problems.
Then she turns on the Sunday-morning talk shows, listens to the political leaders and political pundits and wonders, "Where is your connection to somebody who doesn't make the kind of money you do?"
Looking at herself and her neighbors, she wonders how a family of four makes ends meet. "They're making two car payments. . . . Then the price of food goes up and your taxes go up and it's just more and more. And when do people say, 'OK, that's it. I'm getting out and moving to Florida, where it's more affordable'?"
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