COMMENT

Rigged? On this Election Day, should we talk about what's rigged in America?

Working mums doing grocery runs with fistfuls of coupons to save as much money as possible, retirees doing the numbers on a notepad over and over again because their savings won't stretch far enough to cover their kids' college costs, young workers doing two hours on a city bus to get to minimum-wage jobs because public transportation routes were cut yet again. These are the people the system is rigged against. And few of them believe election day will make any difference in their lives.

"I don't think anything is going to change no matter which of them is elected," said John Henderson, 66, who lives in Maryland and is caught between having too much money to get help and not enough to make it all work.

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It's the story of America's 99 per cent. And it's the story that gets lost in an election season fixated on groping, emails, charitable giving and uncharitable speeches.

Before he retired, Henderson was the warden of the DC jail. It was a good government job that paid well. But now his son's college education is kicking his retirement strategy to the asphalt.

"I made too much money for him to get help," Henderson explained. "But you can't get ahead. We make US$100,000, but then US$40,000 of it went to private school and then what?"

Folks like Henderson get no breaks the way multimillionaire presidential candidates do.

"I have to pay my taxes," he said. "I have to pay my bills."

Baseball Mum is struggling, too. She had a bunch of money-saving coupons as she got her weekly shopping done late Sunday night in a Northern Virginia supermarket.

"I don't favour either candidate, and I just don't see any real change for us," she said, looking for ground beef that was on sale.

Baseball Mum has two sons, 9 and 12, and for a while, day care for both boys was more than her family's mortgage payment. Crazy, right?

But if she quit working, she knew she'd lose seniority at her dental office and would have a hard time getting a similar job once the boys were in school.

"I'm frustrated by the lack of mobility," she said.

I couldn't use her name because her boss is a loud and vocal supporter of one candidate, and he riles up everyone else in the office with it.

"We've all just stopped talking politics because it's so controversial," she said.

The election has been focused more on childish insults than on child care - the resource that would've helped Baseball Mum's family make ends meet without falling behind.

Nothing feels more rigged than a society that sanctifies motherhood in its talk but abandons mothers in its actions.

The idea that our economic system is rigged against the middle class is a theme song for liberal Senator Elizabeth Warren.

"I see evidence everywhere of the pounding working people are taking," Warren said at an AFL-CIO summit last year. "These families are working harder than ever, but they can't get ahead. Many feel that the game is rigged against them, and they are right. The game is rigged against them."

Conservative billionaire Charles Koch used the same word - "rigged" - in an interview earlier this year.

"If I controlled the Republican Party, we would not have a two-tiered system," Koch told ABC News. "We would not have welfare for the wealthy, [and] we would not have a tax code that subsidises the wealthy."

The tax code shouldn't allow bankrupt business tycoons with clever accountants to pay no taxes, while Baseball Mum's household hands over a big chunk of its income to the government.

The higher-education system shouldn't force parents to ravage their retirement savings to help their kids go to college.

The country shouldn't be a place where having children delivers a gut-punch to the family budget or a medical emergency ends in an eviction.

"My partner lost his job when he had a heart attack, then I lost my job when I stopped to take care of him," said Shannon Cheeks, 32, rocking her 3-month-old outside of the city's family homeless shelter at the former DC General Hospital.

They were evicted when she was pregnant. Born and raised in Washington, DC, she didn't want to leave her home town and her family.

"They tell us to go live in Virginia. It's cheaper out there," she said. "But then you have transportation costs. How do you get to and from work? That takes hours. Costs money. And then child care - how could you make that work when you're on a bus all day?"

Just last week, the transportation authority proposed closing the Metro stop by the shelter - along with many others in neighbourhoods of colour - during off-peak hours to save money.

"It doesn't work. And no one's talking about that in the election," Cheeks said. "They're not going to change anything for us."

Her baby squirmed, and the other kids at the shelter swarmed around her. "It's like it's rigged to keep us here."

It is vital to vote on election day, yes. But that's just one step on one day. Being an American, being a patriot or even being disgruntled means taking a meaningful role in the democratic process the other 1460 days of the presidential cycle.

So after the voting is over, stay engaged. Be part of the government you really want.

Otherwise, the occupant of the White House will change, but nothing else will.