What A Real Anti-Poverty Movement Looks Like

May 31, 2015, 1 Comment, Written by , Posted in Uncategorized

There’s no point beating around this bush. An anti-poverty movement led by the middle and upper classes is doomed to failure. Equally, a partisan movement will never manage to get much done. That said, it’s never a bad thing when people discuss these things – there are 45 million people living in poverty in America, after all. Poverty looks like everything.

Occupy Wall Street was a great moment in the progressive movement. It did a lot to change the national discussion about poverty and inequality. But to people like me – from a small town in rural Utah – it looked like a bunch of confused, disaffected youth. Progressives understand their own language, why you might lead a group of thousands by consensus. I saw a woman who had named herself Ketchup waving jazz hands on national TV and realized that this movement wasn’t for me or my people.

I watched the Tea Party form – a populist movement as far as most of its participants understood it. My family members are Tea Partiers, waving guns and flags and talking about federal overreach. But to people like me – a center-left libertarian sort – it looked like a bunch of angry Baby Boomers trying to regain their glory days and demanding that those of us in the younger generations continue to pick up the tab for their lifelong profligacy. Keep your government hands off my Medicaid, indeed. That movement wasn’t for me either.

A movement that works has to be apartisan. It has to be pragmatic. It has to avoid divisive social issues – there are plenty of programs we can agree on, plenty of problems we can point out. It doesn’t matter whether a McDonald’s worker agrees with abortion or not, they still deserve a higher wage.

America’s working classes are pragmatic people. It’s the only way to survive. When a cook loans a cashier ten bucks until payday, nobody’s vetting each other for their ideological purity on drones or gay marriage. It’s just workers helping each other out, because one thing you learn in the service industry is that you’re all in it together.

That’s the ethos that will create a real anti-poverty movement. That’s the coalition that can win.

We need a robust debate in America on social issues. But we do ourselves no favors by essentially splitting our potential support in half before we even get started. Two-thirds of Americans live paycheck to paycheck – what if we got them all asking about counterproductive welfare regulations, talking about how ridiculous it is to worry about the spending habits of the lower classes when there simply aren’t enough jobs to go around?

What would happen if two-thirds of America decided that partisanship isn’t working out so well in Washington and started demanding better?

We, all of us who spend our lives worrying about making rent and buying our kids new crayons when the old ones have been crushed into wax dust, need better representation. We need officials to worry about what happens when they ignore us as surely as they worry about their donors.

The truth is, there isn’t a millionaire in the world who could craft a coherent welfare policy. Programs that require you to quit your job to attend job training courses to get benefits, because nobody remembered to write in an exception, or misunderstandings about the differences in generational vs. situational poverty – those exist because the wealthy tried to imagine what poverty must be like. And they guessed wrong.

A strong anti-poverty movement will be led by the people who understand what poverty really is, why it happens, how we could create workable solutions. A strong movement will be made up of the people who are poverty experts because they havelived in poverty.  There is no one leader in this movement; there can’t be. It has to be a broad coalition of strange bedfellows, because there are 45 million people living in poverty in America. That many people can’t look like any one thing.

Political leaders also need to remember that flyover country is the vast majority. Plenty of people live in coastal megacities. But less than 40% of Americans live in a coastal county. That’s a lot of inlanders that are only courted during political campaign season. If we want to build a movement that will last, we need to accept that we’re going to have to talk to people like me – people who are disaffected by what works in cosmopolitan cities, people who are actively repelled by those tactics.

We will win when finding solutions to poverty becomes more important to us than any other issue, when we stop condescending to people who hold different beliefs and values and start recognizing that just like a restaurant crew, we’re all in this together.

I think most people will understand that people have firm opinions on things. But strategically speaking, I think it’s a good thing if you can say, for example, that people on either side of a fight as divisive as reproductive healthcare access can agree on raising wages. For now, I want to be able to demand fair treatment at work, where my political and social values are largely irrelevant. I want proper safety equipment. I want to be able to file workers’ comp without fear of retaliation. I want paid sick leave and maternity leave and a schedule that I can count on two weeks in advance. I want a wage that reflects the work I put in.

Those things, you can build a coalition around. And when we put the workers in charge of their own destinies, we’ll find that we can win.

This post, written by Linda Tirado, originally appeared at Talk Poverty.

Why Do Poor People Quit Their Jobs? Politics, Poverty, and Dignity

May 26, 2015, No Comments, Written by , Posted in Uncategorized

By Amie Miller


Recently, I lost a friend in one of my work places, out of nowhere, and it made me really sad. I’ve worked

some pretty crappy jobs, and I still do, but those friendships are why I come back to grin and bear it;

workplace friends are sometimes the whole reason you get excited to go to work. This particular friend

is a lot like me: we are both broke, young, educated, and poor. I am too scared to quit, but there is

always that daydream of just quitting and not looking back. My friend has way more courage than I do.

But her quitting got me thinking: why do poor people quit their job that they really need?


I think there is a part of societal thinking in the past ten years that says, “Any job is a good job.” I call

bullshit. I am no stranger to unions — my dad has been working in unions for most of my life. The

benefits have been awesome for my family because, yep, health insurance! I work for a union now and I

am glad I do, because I was in a position where having a second job was going to get me fired. I did

nothing wrong and had the paperwork and literature to prove it. The union backed me up as well as my

coworkers who also had second jobs; if one of us were to go down, we had a team. I can’t imagine

where I would be without the union. Union jobs are good jobs which is why I have a big problem with

the money rigging of politics. I sure as hell don’t support any Koch, I mean politician, who wants to

squash something like bargaining rights. I don’t like this job; in fact, I hate it most days. There is always

that daydream, but for now, it is keeping me alive.


So why do poor people leave their jobs? Well, there is always pursuit of the better pay. Ten extra cents

an hour may not mean much to others, but let’s just say you work an eight hour day and pay 23% in

taxes after on your paycheck. For me, that is enough to buy lunch. I like being able to afford food, don’t



What about those who take lower paying jobs? Ah, well here is where it gets complicated. It is about the

environment. Maybe you have a really crappy manager. You might have such a crappy schedule that it

makes it hard on your family and/or your own health. Kudos to those who work nights! A lesser-paying

job isn’t ideal, but I am sure it beats having a micromanager on your ass while you stock cans. Cleaning

for some can be cathartic and, trust me, there is job security is custodial.


What about those who quit and don’t have a job (or even look)? Here is where it’s more complicated to

explain. In rare instances, it is better to stay unemployed than to be employed. For those of you not in

the know, Republicans really don’t like any form of public assistance. If you watch Fox News at all, you

have probably seen at least one piece about how poor people are lazy, uneducated, and make bad

decisions. This is coming from nice looking white people in a studio.


Poor people are smart as hell. Formal education after high school is optional, but practical knowledge is

not. We know where to find things and services in the little known places that surprise me every day.

We are creators and innovators. These are the people who showed me that white vinegar is the best

cleaning solution out there. These are the people with an intricate community system of our own

services. Poverty is an it-takes-a-village mentality that binds communities. After all, it’s easier to get

through the tough times when you have a community of solidarity. We know that if we don’t stick

together, we will fall.


We are also smart enough to know where most of our tax dollars go. Even with those really crappy jobs,

taxes come out of our paychecks. We pay into the same system the rest of the 99% does. Sadly, after

taxes, there isn’t much of a paycheck left. Take an instance where a person is working full-time at

$8.35/hour in the state of Ohio where paychecks are taxed close to 30%. After taxes, you’re left with

close to $233. Do the math with your average living expenses in the state of Ohio: you’re still in the red

no matter how careful you plan your spending, let alone any strange emergencies like your car breaking

down. With the little money you make, you are still taxed enough to put money into public assistance



Sometimes you wonder though, at the end of your payday, if it was really worth it. I mentioned before

in my previous article about college and the poverty trolls and how I failed to qualify for public

assistance to help me make through a difficult summer. Here is what I learned about Public Assistance: it


works. Of course you will hear about the guy who buys lobster with his food stamps, but trust me, those

people are rare. The people on food stamps make every penny work for them to help them stay

sustained until the first of the next month. Reckless spending of precious tax dollars doesn’t exist for us,

but it does in the hands of our politicians. Who are we to blame, exactly?

Anyway, poor people think like others. We quit jobs for the same reasons. I just quit one of my jobs

because it wasn’t paying me enough to justify staying there. I had a terrible boss. I just wasn’t happy. I

needed a change of scenery. I wanted something better for myself. See, rich people? We are pretty

much the same.


The way the system is set up and the current economy, being on assistance and looking for new work

can be mutually exclusive. To qualify for assistance, you have to be in a certain income bracket, and also

have to have dependents (it is incredibly hard to qualify as a single person). I know a lot of people in the

system. Shit happens. A lot of them got out. What happens to the people who can’t? I know those

people, too. It isn’t a case-by-case situation. If you make just one measly dollar over the tax bracket, you

lose that assistance. You lose that hundred or more dollars to buy groceries. You lose that public

housing. You are back to where you started. These are the people who are trapped. I feel horrible for

those people, but worse for their kids, because they’re the ones who really lose. At this point, it is better

to quit your job.

Trapped in the Kafka-esque Revolving Door of the NYC Shelter System

May 21, 2015, No Comments, Written by , Posted in Uncategorized

This essay was originally posted on Hopes and Fears. It has been re-printed with permission.

By Scott A. Hutchins

I’m 39 years old, and I entered the Bellevue intake shelter in New York City on May 25, 2012, seven years after earning my master’s degree in cinema and media studies from the College of Staten Island. Hundreds of job applications had only gotten me part-time tutoring work and unsuccessful stints in telemarketing that did not come close to paying the rent, even in the Bronx. Job hunting has been made harder by my worsening combination of scoliosis, herniated discs, sciatica, and plantar fasciitis. My father passed away in September 2007 and I received $37,000 in life insurance money. By 2011, this money was gone, my things were in storage, and I was inducted into the New York City shelter system. I’ve been in one shelter or another ever since.

I arrived at my current shelter in August 2014, and the stated nine-month stay means I can expect to leave by the end of this month. The room I stay in is dark and gloomy—the walls like lightened coffee, the floors like mud. At least, unlike any of my previous shelters, I have a private room. It’s about eight feet by ten, and I have a locker next to my bed. The inside of it is filled with apocalyptic rambling from a previous resident. I’ve seen mice climbing on top of my suitcase, which sits upright in the larger half of my locker when not in use. One of the counselors denied me a Christmas present, on the grounds that my room was too messy, just because my suitcase and the things I normally store on top of it were on the floor.

The heater in the room was blistering, even after keeping the window open all winter. Others’ rooms are barely heated at all. This is also the only shelter where I have stayed that does not force residents to leave in the morning (7-9 AM, depending on the shelter) and not return until 5pm. My previous shelter did not even allow residents to stay on weekends.

THERE ARE THREE BATHROOMS ON MY FLOOR, all with leaking walls that make water pouches of large sections of paint. There are also three shower rooms on my floor, all private with locks. Only the one nearest to my room is usable. The second shower can’t get above lukewarm; the third reeks of rotting fish and has a shower head that comes off easily.

Food poisoning is rampant in the shelter system; I seemed to get sick from every meal. My case manager called it a “weak stomach.” I developed gout and hypertension. Since most of the time it’s impractical to prepare food, and it cannot be stored in the rooms, I use my SNAP benefits on ready-to-eat things, which often means spending and eating too much. I would estimate the average cost of a meal at $7; that’s 27 1/2 meals per month. I usually have at least one shelter meal per day, usually including excessive red meat and salt (corned beef hash or sausage is common at breakfast; hot dogs, hamburgers, Chef Boyardee beef ravioli, and Jamaican beef patties common at lunch). Bag lunches are provided only for those who work, and it’s always bologna.

Trapped in the Kafka-esque revolving door of the NYC shelter system. Изображение №1.

I AM CLOSING IN ON 3,000 JOB APPLICATIONS IN THE 35 MONTHS THAT I HAVE BEEN HOMELESS. I’ve been told that the only way to get editorial work in my field is an unpaid internship, which is illegal if one isn’t a current college student. I have gone on 27 interviews since the month before I became homeless. None of my health conditions make me disabled by the standards of the Social Security Administration because my education and experience show that I can do a desk job. So, it turns out that all I did in running up $65,000 in student loan debt was make myself ineligible for disability benefits. My case manager, as per standard protocol, sent me to a psychiatrist once, hoping he could get me out of the shelter on a mental health disability, such as depression or a sleep disorder. All he found was “adjustment disorder,” which essentially means that I’m a normal person, the shelter system is a virus, and the disorder is a cold that will depart soon after I am no longer living in shelter.

My case manager’s office looks a lot like my room in terms of shape, size, and colors, only he is allowed to decorate it with memorabilia from various trips, a picture of himself with his wife, a diagram of his house upstate, religious iconography, and an award for being the Best-Dressed Employee. He grumbles that I have not been attending the mandatory “relapse prevention” meetings.* I respond that this is because I do not have a substance abuse problem and cannot legally be required to attend such meetings. At my request, he rifles through his file cabinet, struggling to find a copy of the form residency letter which he fills out by hand. This letter, combined with a monthly invoice for my $250 storage unit, is what HRA requires in order to pay for storage. The provide this service if your unit is in the tri-state area, you are on public assistance, and you live in a shelter.

Every night, we must sign a bed roster by 10 PM curfew, which was imposed by Police Commissioner William Bratton under Mayor Rudolph Giuliani as “quality of life laws” (which include penalizing people—often the homeless and people of color—for loitering and eating in public). Late passes are not allowed unless you’re working. When I was offered temporary legal proofreading work, I could not take it because most proofreading work is assigned day of and the shelter demands at least two days of employment be fixed, rather than “on call.” I previously lived in a shelter with heavy security and metal detectors that banned all electronic devices other than welfare phones. This ban included tablets, music players, and laptops. I was offered a used laptop by a friend, but because of the policy I couldn’t accept it.

Trapped in the Kafka-esque revolving door of the NYC shelter system. Изображение №2.

In order to stay in the shelter, I have to spend a significant amount of time moving money and paperwork from one government office or private contractor to another, which re-absorb most of my benefits. The Independent Living Plan (ILP) is a document that says that I agree to look for work, comply with the rules of the shelter, and the rules of the New York City Human Resources Administration (HRA), the welfare office. The job developer won’t let me use the computer lab to look for work because my aforementioned health problems make only a desk job tenable in my condition, and he says there aren’t any, and is not willing to let me “waste my time” in order to look. It’s become routine by now. I won’t qualify for unemployment benefits until I’ve worked on a W-2 job for six months straight; I receive $45 in public assistance, $194 in SNAP benefits and $30 per week for a Metrocard (though it’s only received when in Back to Work programs). The city receives much more to house me—some say the city pays out over $3,500 to the shelter system per month—three times as much as the one-bedroom apartment from which I was evicted.

After my unemployment ran out, I have been required to be on public assistance in order to stay in the shelter, which I’ve been required to exchange for unpaid labor in the Work Experience Program (WEP)—as though time off unemployment benefits (UIB) means that you have somehow lost your skills and experience. In the past, the program has placed me in jobs filing at a food bank and an activist bookstore, and as a computer room attendant at another shelter.

When I’m not in WEP, the rest of the week is spent from 9 to 5 in the Back to Work program, which mostly entails sitting in a holding room, doing nothing but waiting for the computer. You could get a pass to use the computer lab for 45 minutes at an appointed time, with an occasional lesson with an instructor, who might spend an hour discussing dress code, sexual harassment, interview tactics, networking, etc., but it wasn’t every day. I thought it was ironic that they would give us a lesson on networking and how much better it is than an internet job search, while making us spend six hours per day in a room full of unemployed people.

They also give you numerous aptitude and personality tests. I don’t understand the purpose of the latter. One test told me that my ideal job match was as a philologist, a specialist in historical and comparative linguistics. The only ones that really seem to matter are the ones that determine what sort of WEP assignment you should be in. I tested into “clerical,” which is as advanced as they get. Others include janitorial and retail/food service. I also remember taking a test that involved counting nuts of the hardware variety and one to see if you could assemble some sort of metal tool.

I am not currently in WEP or Back to Work programs as I write this because any time there is an administrative mistake, I get excused for several weeks while they try to straighten things out. This has occurred many, many times on in my case. In addition to having a supervisor misplacing my paperwork, and a failure to carry over my medical restrictions from one cycle to another, the most recent incident included the closing of FEGS, a not-for-profit employment placement organization which was shut down earlier this year pending an investigation into a $19.4 million loss.

HRA Commissioner Steven Banks announced on October 1st that the WEP would be phased out, but later he admitted to a delegation from Picture the Homeless (a by-homeless, for-homeless activist group of which I am a part) that this would take about two years. It’s business as usual until then.

Trapped in the Kafka-esque revolving door of the NYC shelter system. Изображение №13.

I ATTENDED MY FIRST HOUSING MEETING AT PICTURE THE HOMELESS on October 4, 2012. The organization lobbies at city and state levels against discriminatorybroken windows policing, and holds events like The Longest Night: a national memorial service for homeless people who’ve died in the past year. It honors this by opening Hart’s Island, the site of mass graves, to visitation.

I’d come to seek help with the common prohibition on charging mobile phones in shelters, but that soon seemed insignificant compared to what Picture the Homeless had discovered from a 2011 city-wide door-to-door survey: enough vacant property to house 199,982 people (about three times the current record high shelter population) in only 20 of New York’s 59 community boards. The survey reveals that the real estate industry is lying about a 2% vacancy rate in New York City to keep prices inflated; 10% of that real estate is city-owned. Luxury apartments lie fallow while the shelter population skyrockets.

One of Picture the Homeless’s most important goals is its affordable housing initiative. PTH is a co-organizing member of a coalition called the New York City Community Land Initiative (NYCCLI): a housing campaign with several ally groups and nonprofit housing developers which aims to move neglected low-income city owned buildings into a citywide community land trust. Under this model, a nonprofit organization acquires land, permanently removing it from the speculative market, and allowing residents to buy their own apartments as “shares” for as little as a few hundred dollars. It can can veto any developer who wants to put in something from which the residents in and around the community do not benefit.

Trapped in the Kafka-esque revolving door of the NYC shelter system. Изображение №14.

When Anthony Williams and Louis Haggins, Jr, founded PTH in 1999, many group members had the stereotypical problems of homelessness. More recently, there has been an influx of those who have worked all their lives who have suddenly been priced out, are unable to find employment, or dealing with foreclosures, either of their own property or that of their landlords. I am not the only one in the group with an advanced degree.

In the 1990s, I was a moderate conservative. I voted for Bob Dole in the first presidential election I was old enough to vote. I have since become a far left progressive, woken up to the damage that the capitalist system causes to such a large portion of the citizenry, as private corporations contract both the supplies of money and jobs. The Bowery Mission, a Manhattan-based Christian homeless shelter, has a newsletter called “Red Door”, which each month highlights a homeless person that they have saved from the throes of addiction to drugs or alcohol. Not afflicted with such a malady, I will never fit into their narrative of what a homeless person looks like, nor will I accept the narrative that I am responsible for my plight when the structural problems of the system are so readily apparent, a revolving door through which I never want to return.

The Poverty Pile Up

May 18, 2015, No Comments, Written by , Posted in Uncategorized

This essay was originally posted on Almost Interestingly Enough. It has been re-printed with permission.

By Pyno Mrah

My family lives paycheck to paycheck. Every week, by about Wednesday, we’re scrambling to make it through the last few days of the week. This happens even though both of us bring in paychecks. It happens even though we both have degrees and other certifications. It happens even though my husband makes “good” money by making about double minimum wage.

We are as frugal as we can possibly be. We’ve cut back on everything. We don’t buy paper towels because they are a frivolous purchase. We buy the best toilet paper for a septic system because we can’t buy more than one ply at a time anyway. I even wash my hair only once a week to save money on shampoo and conditioner. (Which has actually turned out not so bad for my hair) We spend next to nothing on food. Seriously, how many of you can feed a family of three on half a pound of bacon and five refrigerated biscuits? And we take care of our shit too; that way we don’t have to buy new shit. How many of you have flip-flops that are six years old?…that you have worn daily for those six years?

We go without. We go hungry. Our youngest has never been to a dentist and has only seen a doctor when she needed her vaccines…she’s 9. We have next to nothing to show for all of our efforts. The only thing we will pass down to our kids is a mountain of debt.

And, no matter what, we will NEVER come out of this.

Here’s an example of why:

Towards the end of February we got our tax return. It was significantly smaller than previous years. We used almost all of it to catch up on rent that we were behind, then breathed a sigh of relief that our rent was caught back up and we were finally going to able to nudge a little ahead again.

Two weeks later we get a visit from our landlord telling us he is evicting us. We have 30 days to move….but he still expects us to pay rent for those 30 days.

We don’t.

Instead, we use the next month’s pay, plus the little we had left over from our tax return, to move. We found a place for under $500 a month, and pay triple that to move in. Since the place is half the size of our old one, we also have to get a storage unit for all of our tools and books. We then have to spend another $200 for a month of extermination services before we can actually move in. The deposit to change the electricity to the new place is $455. Phone is $200.

During all of this, while we are waiting for the extermination to conclude, I get pulled over for my tag lights being out; then arrested for “resisting” during the stop. Any money we had left over from moving, plus a lot more, has to be used to get me out of jail and start paying off all of costs, fines, and fees that we keep getting hit with. Including a $50 charge for the public defender I am constitutionally guaranteed if I am too poor to afford an attorney.

While this is going on, we spent three weeks without a functioning septic system because our new landlords told us to fix the problem ourselves because they don’t fix basic clogs…we had only occupied the house for 8 days when everything clogged. We spent another $200 on a plumber who told us that our “just pumped” septic tank is now 75% full and that our clog was caused by the cast iron pipes…which will continue to clog no matter what we do because that’s what cast iron pipes do. We also had to spend a lot more money than we actually have because trying to live without running water for almost a month is super expensive.

Now, because of all of that, we are about to be evicted again since all of those costs piled up at once and we had to spend our rent and the money we were going to use for few other bills to fix these new problems.

Our electricity is going to be cut off because the cost of the deposit was more than three months of electrical use, and we didn’t make enough in time to recover that loss. My phone is going to be cut off because I had to use the phone money to get through those three weeks without water. My storage unit might be lost because I won’t be able to pay all of the late charges on it. Of course, I can always let my car be repo’ed to keep the tools and books that are in my storage unit. If we lose those tools we lose any chance of making extra money…but if we lose the car we lose any chance of making our current money.

Now let me go over some of the less visible consequences. Not having running water or electricity risks child protective services coming in and taking our daughter away from us. She already lost her spot on the school honor roll because we lost track of half of her school supplies during the move. Her grades are slipping fast because she is starting to reach that point most poor kids reach where school seems pointless in the face of what she’s been through over the past few months. If we don’t get our income stabilized she’s not going to make it through school and will probably have a record (or a kid) before she finishes high school…if she finishes high school.

And things are not going to get better for us; they will only get worse. No matter how hard we try to avoid it, this is all going to cost us even more money that we don’t have and put us even further behind. And what sucks the most of that all we need to get out of this and stop having costs pile up on us is comparatively little.

All it would take for me to avoid jail, us to avoid eviction, and being able to keep our kid, is the equivalent of a month’s pay. An extra month’s pay ($2,000) and we’d start breaking even again.

But what’s going to happen now is that, since we can’t manifest that money, we’re going to keep getting further and further behind; which is going to cost us more and more money. We’ve already sold everything we could con people in to buying so we have nothing left to sell. I’m even considering going back into webcam porn to try and make a few extra dollars…but I’d have to spend money to make myself presentable enough to make any money at it, so that’s out too. We, literally, have no options left.

And we’re not alone. This isn’t something that’s happening to just us. When I went to court, I watched people plead guilty to charges they should have fought (and could have won) because they couldn’t pay the $50 to get a public defender. People were copping to jail time because they couldn’t afford the “one will be appointed to you” attorney. I watched a kid with a first time shoplifting charge, for stealing an item worth $3, leave the courtroom with almost $500 in fees and fines. I was the only person to walk out of that courtroom with less than $300 in additional fines…and that was only because I asked for a public defender. How is this justice?

All of this is stupidly unnecessary. Hard working people are making so little that they can’t even make enough to be able to keep working. They are forced to cut corners until they end up in jail/court over bullshit like having an expired license. Then, we you can’t buy your way out of those unnecessary consequences, you’ll be hit with more and more until you end up as part of our overpopulated prison system. Of course, once that happens, you won’t be able to get a job because you’ll have a record.

And it all just keeps going.

It never stops.

It just keeps piling up.

76% of Americans now live paycheck to paycheck. More than half of us are one minor problem away from being homeless. 46% of Americans have less than $800 in savings. 22% of those have less than $100. 21% have $0. Leaving only 3% in the up to $800 in savings category.

How do you do what you are supposed to like this?

And how are we ok with this?

The Ageing Unfairness of the Cash Grant System

May 15, 2015, 1 Comment, Written by , Posted in Uncategorized

By Adrienne Parkes

I’m writing to talk about an issue that’s important to me. One of the women at Just Harvest, an organization that works to reduce poverty and increase access to healthy food for those in need in Pennsylvania’s Allegheny County, recently came to my school (CCAC) to talk to a group of women in a program where I do my work study. It’s called the KEYS program, and it helps women who are on public assistance get through their first year (ideally two years) of school. It provides things like access to childcare subsidies, help with transportation costs, and the cost of books. I started out as a client, and now I work there temporarily, though it may become permanent once I finish my degree.

At the recent public event I attended, someone from Just Harvest brought up the fact that the organization is fighting to get the cash grant for people who are on cash assistance increased. Out of ALL the things that would help me, this is a major one. I have been on CA for about two years, and as you might know, after a certain amount of time, the amount of hours you have to be working increases. They don’t give a damn if you’re a single parent or if you’re in school; you have to work 20 hours and that’s that (30 hours once your child turns 6). I am going to be starting at the University of Pittsburgh in the fall, and when that happens, I will lose my cash. I know that the cash grant hasn’t been increased since something ridiculous like 1990, so I fully support what they are trying to do. I’m not sure if the increase would mean I would continue to qualify, or that I would just get more as long as I meet the 20 hours, but either way it would be beneficial to so many people.

I use cash assistance for so many things, but for the most part it really helps me offset the fact that I receive no child support. I am lucky to have resources like WIC and food stamps, as well as CCIS, so that my food costs and child care costs are mostly covered. But when it comes to other things like car insurance/registration/repairs, utility bills, etc., that $198/month really helps. Anything additional would be a dream. So, I’m not sure if I’m too late and if you’ve already met with Congress, but in case you didn’t, this is what I would have liked you to address: increasing the cash grant to match the inflation rate for the last, what? 20 years? However long it has been, it’s long overdue.

I Will Not Be Lectured To. I’m Too Busy Teaching.

May 11, 2015, No Comments, Written by , Posted in Uncategorized

This essay was originally posted on The Tattooed Professor. It has been re-printed with permission.

By Kevin Gannon

I was having a really good day today; recovering from post-semester burnout, recharging the batteries–all in all, getting to my Happy Place. But then I read Mark Bauerlein’s Op-ed in today’s New York Times, and now I’m all irritated. “What’s the Point of a Professor?” Bauerlein asks; he then goes on to tell us, basically, “not much.” And who’s responsible for this lamentable state of affairs, you might wonder? Well–there’s students, for one. In today’s consumerist and career-over-true-education society, they just don’t engage with professors outside of the classroom transaction. “They have no urge to become disciples,” according to Bauerlein. Why don’t they want to become disciples? Well, colleagues, there’s where it becomes our fault, too:

Sadly, professors pressed for research time don’t want them, either. As a result, most undergraduates never know that stage of development when a learned mind enthralled them and they progressed toward a fuller identity through admiration of and struggle with a role model

Who even realizes they want to become an acolyte of a rock-star professor if they never get to the right “stage of development?” College seems to be reduced, in this view, to a several-year series of rote careerist transactions between infantilized students and disinterested professors. Gone are the halcyon days of yore when professors dispensed wisdom to adoring throngs of geek-groupies, never to return. O THE POOR CHILDREN.

Who wants to be my disciple?

Here’s the thing: I. Am. So. Done. with being lectured to by academics from elite institutions about how I–and many others in similar career arcs–am somehow failing students, the liberal arts, other faculty, civil society, western civilization, the Cleveland Indians, or any other institution that has fallen on hard times. And I’m really hacked off when that scolding comes from obliviously pretentious Older White Male Professors who come across less as committed to education and more like committed to telling the rest of us how we don’t do things nearly as well as they did In My Day. Hell, Bauerlein’s column has it all: the reminiscing about crowded hallways in the UCLA English Department as every student was lined up to learn at the knee of some senior don, the obligatory paean to faculty as moral authority, even a Todd Gitlin shout-out. Now, Bauerlein wants us to see him as understanding. I get it, he seems to say, students are more occupied and distracted than they were in previous years. (And more stupid, if you go by the glib assertion in his most well-known book’s title.) They need more guidance, to be steered toward the things they don’t know that they don’t know. Help them help themselves by being a beacon of the humanities. And that’s where the corporate university and its consumed-by-research faculty have failed them, he concludes:

You can’t become a moral authority if you rarely challenge students in class and engage them beyond it. If we professors do not do that, the course is not an induction of eager minds into an enlarging vision. It is a requirement to fulfill. Only our assistance with assignments matters. When it comes to students, we shall have only one authority: the grades we give. We become not a fearsome mind or a moral light, a role model or inspiration. We become accreditors.

It would be easy to characterize this as a grumpy old man’s lament, a “kids these days” monologue that we all have heard from the should-have-retired-six-years-ago colleague in the coffee room. I could just make a “get off my lawn” joke and be done with it. I could take his wish for 1960s-style profs to gather disciples and compare it to Donald Sutherland’s lecherous professor character in Animal House. It’s all low-hanging fruit.

But my problem with Bauerlein’s essay is deeper. His argument is based on shallow archetypes and anecdotal assumptions; it renders simplistic matters that are actually much more complex, and confuses correlation with causation. It is one of a larger genre of student- and faculty-shaming jeremiads that have emerged in recent months, written by established, tenured scholars at elite R-1 institutions (Emory,in Bauerlein’s case), affecting a faux-benevolent tone to chastise all of us for not “doing it right.”

It’s easy to tell your colleagues that they’re too engaged in research, and not enough with students, when you teach at an institution that has a 2-2 (maximum) class load and ample support for research. It’s easy for someone at Princeton to tell us we’re doing conferences wrong because they go to so many that all the annoying things that happen there run together after a while. Oh, they wail, if only our academia was like it Used To Be.

This is academic classism, pure and simple. In its shallow portrait of student attitudes and naive calls for professors to be moral authorities and fearsome minds, Bauerlein ignores what is happening outside the walls of his tiny elite cloister, perched amongst the ivy and resting comfortably on scads of tuition dollars and a jumbo-sized endowment. “What’s the point of a professor,” he asks? Let me tell you one answer.

In my Tiny Liberal Arts College With Professional Programs Too, a professor teaches four (sometimes more) classes a semester. These professors also advise anywhere from 10 to 40 students (unlike large, R1 institutions, we do not use professional or departmental advisors). They sponsor and advise student organizations. Our one-person Theatre Department runs four productions a year, our two-person Music Department sponsors a pep band and a choir that travels across the US and over to Europe, guided and mentored (and chaperoned, and checked into their hostels) by their professors. These professors will knock on a dorm room door if one of their students has missed several classes and is in jeopardy of being on academic probation (this may or may not have been someone who looked remarkably like me). These professors are on the hospital floor for 8-hour clinicals with a cohort of 19-year-old Nursing majors. They help find translators for a Bosnian student’s parents (who don’t speak English) to open up a bank account in town. They sit through interminable afternoon meetings and then teach a three-hour Social Work seminar two nights a week. These professors go to their student’s graduation parties, they get thank-you cards from grateful students (and relieved parents*), they go to former students’ weddings, they are invited to law school commencements for former advisees.They take students who don’t think they’ll ever understand Foucault or Hayden White and help them get admitted to a top graduate program a year later. They tell students who have been told they’re less-than all of their lives that they are capable, and that they can do this thing. And then many of those students go on to do that thing. And as Director of our Teaching Center, I can personally attest to the fact that they TEACH THE SHIT OUT OF THEIR FIELDS in the classroom. Oh, and we still write articles and books and speak at conferences.

We. Have. A. Point.

Moreover, our students know it.

Now, I’m not at Harvard (though I am at the Harvard of East Des Moines). But my experiences echo most of the faculty out there, many of whom are adjunct or non-tenure track. We teach heavy loads, are still expected to produce scholarly work, and often have even heavier service requirements given the type of institutions in which we labor. We are not just teachers, but mentors, advisors, life coaches, confidants, chaperones, and more to our students. This may not match the idealized picture of eager undergraduates waiting outside the Lit prof’s door, ready for a stimulating gab session on Modernism. But that vision’s a pipe dream for 98% of faculty and students on American college campuses, and I wonder if reminiscences of such idealized settings haven’t gotten more romanticized by those less pleased about today. Just because our mentorship, our “moral authority,”** and our inspiration don’t take place in a gothic building where even the ivy has ivy doesn’t mean they’re not happening. Ouracademia is one where both students and faculty are pulled in myriad directions by both personal and professional commitments. Remarkably, in spite of all that, professors in this academia matter urgently, deeply, and personally to a majority of our students in one way or another. For some, we are an intellectual inspiration. For others, we listen when others don’t, or affirm where others haven’t. For others, we open doors that they didn’t know existed. For professors to have this kind of “a point” in the environment in which we and our students find ourselves is testament to us and them. But it’s being ignored in much of the discourse surrounding higher education of late, because it isn’t happening where elite academics are looking. And that’s a damn shame.

So if you’re a Tenured Erudite Professor teaching a course per term at an elite school, and you’re of a mind to write a piece about how academia’s doing it wrong, let me give you some advice. There’s plenty wrong with higher ed, no one’s doubting that, but don’t miss the target. Don’t distract from the real work that needs to be done by pedantically lecturing at the people actually doing it. Don’t begin with an idealized example and then scorn any deviations from it. Life is messier outside the campus fence; teach the students you have instead of pining for the ones you want. Use your privileged position and voice for what we really need in order for professors to matter: condemn the adjunctification of higher education. Hell, treat your own adjunct faculty with fairness and dignity. (Do you know their names? Are you sure?) Help open the faculty ranks to those who may not have taken their Ph.D.s from an ivy–I promise, we can do cool things, too. Argue for a return of public and political respect for our colleges and universities, and the funding that goes with it. Advocate for the less-privileged; these 4-4 loads don’t leave much time for writing national op-eds. Lobby your administration to embrace financial empowerment programs for students. Be a part of building the spaces (literal and figurative) on your campus where students and faculty can be present with one another in a variety of ways (including, if necessary, online). Recognize that your perceptions may embed privileged assumptions that are alien to many current and potential students–and faculty! Help the rest of us do the work that is ours to do in today’s difficult climate.

Or, tell us to get off of your lawn. Whatevs.


*One time, an advisee’s mom made me an apple pie for helping her son get back on track for graduation. It was awesome.

**I would argue “empathetic legitimacy”gets at what we want much better than “moral authority,” which for me carries overtones of conformism and rigidity rather than modeling the truly oopen and capacious nature of the life of the mind.

I Did What I Was Told: Going to College and Generational Poverty Trolls

April 20, 2015, 3 Comments, Written by , Posted in Uncategorized

By Amie Miller

I can’t speak for anyone else, but I can speak for myself. I find myself frustrated at any large family gathering–mostly around the holidays–about the same thing. There is always a comparison to the cousins and to each other. It is no one’s fault, but it isn’t like I have a choice.

I have degree in English. I have debt. I have the skills. I have no job. I am educated and poor.

In comparison to my cousins, I had a rougher start in school. I didn’t go to the best district and was pretty stressed out all the time from keeping up with organizations that ­would look great on scholarship applications and working at the Methodist summer camp. Did I mention we had a farm? That was a whole other load of stress and time management. Insomnia and anxiety were two people I knew quite well before I had a clue what Adderall was.

I got some scholarships and my FAFSA was processed correctly, but I knew I was going to have loans no matter what school I went to and no matter the degree I pursued. It wasn’t like my family didn’t work hard to save up for four kids to go to college, but crap hits the fan and money is needed to clean up that crap. Even with the grants, non-renewable scholarships, and Stafford loans, I was six grand short freshmen and sophomore year. Thanks to AP credits in high school my class standing was almost a year ahead, so I got more aid that way. My parents couldn’t help me pay for school; I had to figure out how to pay for books, supplies, living expenses, food, gas, insurances, and internet on my own. I got roommates and lived the in cheapest places possible.

I did what I was told to do: I worked my way through college. I worked at Wal-Mart at night (and during the day depending on the class schedule). After a year of dealing with that shit, I worked next door at a smaller chain grocery store. It barely kept me alive. I started each semester with two grand and hoped I’d be able to make it with the very little income I made during the week. After watching every penny, I somehow managed to keep $25 to my name at the end of the semester. I graduated with $32 in my checking account, no savings, and $28k in debt.

So why don’t I have a job? I got decent grades considering I was working my ass off and made a lot of sacrifices to those collegiate milestones that everyone remembers (if they were sober). I couldn’t sacrifice work. I worked to live on minimum wage.

Here is why I think internships should never be unpaid: unless you are earning college credit, no one can possibly work full-time and go to school for nothing. I envied my fellow students, some of them my friends, who had financial backing from their families and could work for free. They already had jobs out of college or their graduate school taken care of. When I graduated, I was working two part-time retail jobs; I couldn’t afford to work an internship even if I wanted to. I needed to pay rent. I needed to have gas in my car to go to work and school. I couldn’t get experience to get an entry-level job. I was being trolled.

So I went to apply for welfare, like someone told me to. I hated being in that office. There is something so demoralizing about having to admit you are so desperate you need help even though you have a college degree. I tried to rationalize it by saying after I got the internship and finished, I could get a job and get out of the system. That is what the system was designed to do.

I was a little angry when I was told I wasn’t eligible. I didn’t bother to contest the state, though. That meant time, and time meant money.

I networked what I could, like I was told, though there wasn’t much to network. I applied through career services. I had experience, they told me, but it wasn’t “professional experience.” What. The. Hell. The troll returned to kick me while I was down.

I had a six month grace period after graduation before I had to pay my student loans. Interest accrues, but I accepted it and tried to work as much as I could at both my jobs, hating myself and sinking into a mindset that resented politics, religion, and most of all my successful relatives. When I found out my monthly payment for the ten-year repayment plan, I felt claustrophobic, so I did what was suggested and applied for the income-based repayment plan. I like to think of it as the welfare of repayment plans.

Here is the thing about welfare: it is there to help. I always understood that the system was in place to help those on it get back on their feet. It was a temporary fix for a temporary situation. I am still determined to find that big job, but until then I have to be realistic. For once, I qualified for something.

So here I am now. I am still working two jobs and I still have that piece of paper framed on my wall. I have three resume templates highlighting the grit of my work and skills experience. I am at least having interviews, which is enough for me to celebrate. I pay my bills on time and save what little I can, but the help I get paying my loans back, a whopping $125/month, is allowing me to afford the job hunt. Job hunting is expensive. I lucked out on finding various parts of a business suit for less than fifty bucks. I found secondhand portfolio folders at a garage sale for fifty cents! It’s the gas, parking, and time that gets you. Temp jobs are like Russian roulette, and I am too scared to play that game. Grad school is something for which I can’t invest in more debt. For now, I am safe. Tired, but safe.

This is where I get angry, though: my extended family members resented me for even applying for welfare. My parents felt bad, but they knew how desperate I was. I couldn’t move back home–that was a matter of pride for me. So I did what I had to. The second they found out my method of student loan repayment, the conversation turned to how their taxes will have to pay for my education, how they are paying for all these people doing what I am doing now, and have nothing left to show for it. I was patronized and demoralized every holiday. I have so many things to say to them about it.

First of all, how dare you? You told me that I should go to college and get a job. You told me to get a job and work through school. You told me to work hard, to make some sacrifices. I did everything you told me to, and now you are angry about your tax dollars. Hey, I pay taxes too. I know what it is like, and I will be just fine paying them until I die. Yes, there are people who abuse the systems, but their reasons, I am sure, are more complicated than mine.

Second, I don’t care that my cousin works for some big company and has her life together. I don’t care about how much college was for you back in the stone age. I don’t care that you think I should be doing A instead of B. I don’t care if you think I shouldn’t be so bitter and that I should just look on the bright side. Life for me wasn’t always easy, and it never will be.

Third, I think you need to realize, you debt free unicorns, that you had it easy. I am allowed to be resentful of the rich and not to trust any politicians on the issues of poverty.  I have seen some pretty awful things working in the land of minimum wage. There are some sick lessons about feminism, financial responsibility, race, and human rights.

If there is one consistent thing between the poor and the college-educated poor, it is that both groups have dealt with some serious crap. I have seen the rich frat boy kick a girl when she is down, working at Wal-Mart. We see people with superiority complexes treat us like dirt equally. It changes how you view the world. It’s a crappy place, to be honest.  You see the discrimination too, and you deal with it because it means the difference between money and no money. I know my own behavior right now is something my parents frown upon, but when you have been stripped to nothing, it doesn’t matter. I am allowed to be bitter, to be crass, to have no shame. I can’t afford anything else.

Hand To Mouth: redux

March 02, 2015, No Comments, Written by , Posted in Uncategorized

Reposted with permission from The Gay Curmudgeon


I recently started reading Hand to Mouth: Living in Bootstrap America, Linda Tirado’s book about her experience with poverty. While my experience may not be as bad as hers, my experience may actually be more common.

Like 20% of the US workforce1, I’m a temp/contract/project-based/freelance worker (not by choice, I would hasten to add, but because those are the only jobs available). Partly as a result of this, I’ve been unemployed for half of the past two years.

I also have no company-provided health insurance and no paid time off.

Last year, I made so little money, I qualified for Medicaid. Some people would be thrilled to have health insurance. I’m embarrassed I qualified for Medicaid. (The only problem with Medicaid, of course, is that many doctors and dentists don’t accept it.)

As we head into Thanksgiving and the holiday season, I’m grateful to be working (for the time being), but I could very easily be unemployed again by Christmas.

That’s because full-time, “permanent” jobs are disappearing. Forget about retirement, I’m struggling to stay employed until I reach retirement age!

Last year, I made numerous press appearances on behalf of the long-term unemployed. But despite my many efforts (which included writing letters to Congress and posting over 5,000 tweets), unemployment benefits were not extended and the entire issue has disappeared from the headlines.

In light of the new Republican majority in the Senate, I feel that this issue is more important than ever.

Not only are full-time, “permanent” jobs disappearing, it’s becoming harder than ever to get the few that remain. It’s no longer enough to just submit to a job interview. There’s now often a phone interview thatprecedes the actual job interview, and several follow-up interviews after that.

But that’s not all.

Background checks are also now a normal part of the hiring process. And for a recent job, I not only had to go through a background check, I also had to submit to a drug test and be fingerprinted!

And Republicans say the unemployed are lazy.

As Ms. Tirado points out in her book, when you’re living “hand to mouth” (or paycheck to paycheck, like 25 million Americans2), there’sno margin for error. I recently went into a panic because I thought I was going to need a dental implant. In fact, whenever I have a medical problem of any kind, I’m more worried about the cost than the health implications. (I once got out of a taxi on my way to a hospital emergency room and walked because it was stuck in traffic! Needless to say, I didn’t even consider paying $500 for an ambulance, even though I had insurance at the time.)

The root cause of all this, of course, is globalization, a force way beyond the control of any individual worker (or perhaps even any individual country). But isn’t there something our government could be doing to ease the pain of globalization on the middle-class? And rather than using their earnings to buy back their own stock or move their corporate headquarters overseas (so they don’t have to pay taxes), couldn’t companies use that money to create jobs or give people a raise?

Instead, our government has been silent (which is not surprising considering they’re bought by the very corporations that are causing this problem) and companies are sitting on record profits.

The other reason jobs are disappearing is because companies simply don’t want to pay for health insurance. In fact, I would argue that this is now the only reason the temp industry even exists: to eliminate any legal obligation companies might have toward their temporary employees. (It’s not like they’re actually finding people jobs!)

That’s why we need a single-payer system. Not just because every other civilized country in the world has one, but because it’s ridiculous to expect a for-profit enterprise (and that includes health insurance companies) to do anything that’s not in their own self-interest.

So as we head into this holiday season, you know what I’d really like for Christmas?

A full-time, “permanent” job with benefits.

Happy Thanksgiving.





The Invisible Hand Of Loki

March 01, 2015, 4 Comments, Written by , Posted in Linda's Writing

We’ve given it long enough, America. For decades we’ve been patiently waiting for trickle-down economics to finally take hold and bring us shared prosperity. The theory is that if the powerful are left to their own devices, they will naturally buy things and invest in our economy so much that everyone will prosper.

This is where economics and faith start to collide. Here’s some magic for you: the whole economy is kept functioning by what’s called the invisible hand. That’s the idea that in acting selfishly, we’ll find that we have naturally also benefited society, as though the whole market were designed by some benevolent intelligence for the mutual benefit of mankind.

So, according to this philosophy, it would make sense for big box retailers to support higher minimum wages because it would broaden their customer base and stimulate spending in the working classes, which really benefits the stores in the long-term. Thus the invisible hand, taking corporate people gently by the shoulder, will guide them to decisions that benefit everyone in the pursuit of profits. It’s like that Footsteps poem about walking on a beach with God that’s in everyone’s grandmother’s house, only for multinationals.

What if the hand weren’t benevolent, though? That might explain the disparity between what we dream of and what happens in the economy. There are plenty of pantheons with gods that are neither good nor evil, but simply mischievous. What if it’s been making obscene gestures at us the whole time? Tax cuts and record-setting markets do not a functioning economy make, any more than massive military spending has ever been good as a long-term economic plan. History tells us that inequality is only a good thing to a point.

The statistics have become boring through repetition. CEOs make record amounts more than their workers, the top earners make eleventy billion percent more than the bottom everybody else combined. And we always find a way to ignore the fact that active duty military personnel are on food stamps while there are people whose expertise is valued so highly that they make tens of thousands of dollars in ten minutes.

We’re not even managing to actually support the military that we spend so much money on.

The trouble we run into when we demand a change is that we’re not only debating politicians or a company owner. We’re contending with corporate citizens, too, mythical figures which have Constitutional protections but no faces, and the people who run their boards, and the thousands of employees that work on their behalf, and the millions more shareholders. Say what you will about the Kochs or Walmart heirs or Jamie Dimon (and I do) they’re merely symptoms of the problem.

That problem is simple: there is an imbalance of power in America, and the economy is no exception.

Of course, the money people are only half the trouble. There’s as much zealotry amongst our political leaders as there is amongst our corporate bodies. For example, Kansas cut income taxes pretty drastically, to a top individual rate of 4.8% and a top corporate rate of 7%. The plan was to cut taxes, then sit back and wait for the magic to happen. Jobs would be created as companies would flock to the state. Instead they’re losing the race for jobs to neighboring states, underfunding basic services like schools and facing over a billion dollars in budget shortfall. The governor’s office is now reversing course and likely to raise taxes along with cutting education some more.

In November, Congress deregulated the banks (again.) Basically, part of the last bailout we gave banks was to cover really risky bets. So we passed regulation that said they had to trade that stuff with their own money, in accounts that taxpayers weren’t guaranteeing. This, of course, was tyranny and Congress changed the rules again in the fall budget.

Last year, Clarence Thomas essentially told a bunch of Amazon temp workers that they had no legal right to claim wages after they were off shift. Amazon had made them stay over after work for mandatory bag searches, adding twenty minutes or half an hour to their total workday. The Supreme Court ruled that it was a labor dispute, conveniently ignoring the fact that the workers had no union.

Even after Alan Greenspan, protege of Ayn Rand herself, declared that he’d made a massive error with his policies, our leaders still act as though if we just leave everything alone things will work out eventually (because the market is guided by an invisible hand and so major actors will naturally behave for the greater good. Just wait for the ripple effects, guys. Any minute now. )

This has brought us impossibly incremental wage gains, a growing service sector full of dead-end jobs for people without degrees, higher education that put an entire generation so far in debt that they can’t afford to start families and buy homes, tax laws that reward companies who actually move jobs overseas, unsustainable levels of inequality and a populace increasingly alienated from the people making the rules.

America is increasingly becoming an oligarchy (“economic elite domination” or “biased populism” are the actual terms used by the researchers at that bastion of working-class ethos, Princeton) and it’s only a matter of time before we see another round of worried press conferences featuring somber faces explaining to us why, again, we need to give a whole bunch of public money to rich people who lost their bets in order to stave off the Apocalypse.

It’s completely possible for us to try something different. We simply have to accept that neither the money nor the political power are trickling down, and behave accordingly. It isn’t impossible. Impossible is raising a family on restaurant wages. Making anything like a life for yourself when you live at the whims of two or three different employers is impossible. Millions of people manage to do those things every year somehow anyway.

In hundreds of cities nationwide, everyday people have taken to the streets demanding ten or fifteen dollars an hour. It’s substantially less than the $21 they’d be making if the minimum wage had kept up with overall income growth since 1968. Just over half the country (51% according to Goldman Sachs in November) makes under $20 an hour. Those people are demanding a seat at the table, and they’re winning. Twenty-one states passed minimum wage laws last year. None of the places affected have yet collapsed into anarchy or Zimbabwe-style inflation.

There are better solutions than simply waiting around for faceless rulers to suddenly get benevolent.

I worry that the hand might be Loki’s.

Poverty is not without fierce pride

August 26, 2014, 6 Comments, Written by , Posted in Uncategorized

My original piece stirred a lot of emotions in people. Many of the emails I received were intense and pure. This is one such. The writer struck me with her passion and clarity, her declaration that she had not only managed to do better, but had done it without even the tools that I’d been given.  I asked her for permission to reprint it, because our experiences were different but the fire and the pride and the refusal to be underestimated were the same. Her perspective is as true and important as mine.


My senior year in high school, I was considered “poor” by the government standards. I received a free lunch.   However, I worked afters chool to pay for anything I needed, because my single mom was unable.  I, too, got pregnant out of high school.  I had a part-time job, and a boyfriend who did not want a kid.  I happened to live close to an abortion clinic (a privately owned one.)  My boyfriend, who worked as a logger, paid for my abortion.  Nevertheless, it would have only cost me 2 paychecks at my job.  I would have paid on my own, and I would have gone 3 hours away to do it because I thought it was the only way, the only way to get away from the “judgment” of being pregnant.  It was the worst decision of my life.  But that’s another story. This one’s about your so called “poverty.”

No one ever taught me how to cook, but I now cook fresh (ok, semi-fresh) meals for my family.  My school did not offer Home Ec. I taught myself from a cookbook I bought at Wal-Mart.  I could have gone to the library and borrowed it.  Those public libraries are great places. By the way, they may even have books on couponing.  Couponing also helps me provide fresh meals for my family.  I have never combined couponing and government assistance, but I bet you could really save some money that way.

I tried cigarettes as a teenager. They never stuck, praise God! It’s funny how some people keep using them and others don’t.  My husband used to dip skoal. He would make excuses like he used it to combat stress. The truth is that he was addicted. Did you know that there are scientific studies that addiction is related to your genetics? http://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/topics-in-brief/genetics-addiction

Also, did you also know that coffee is a stimulant? Convenient stores are overloaded with energy drinks and even energy pills. I wouldn’t recommend the pills, though; I tried them once to study for a test.

Although we began to save at least $1200 a year when my husband was able to overcome his 10 year addiction, we didn’t use it wisely. Nope. We continued to make poor financial decisions.  We sucked at money only partly because no one had ever taught us any better. Mainly, we sucked at money because we coveted material things we didn’t need.  One meal a week at Wendy’s costs at least $260 a year. That would improve my life tremendously….  A small college fund for my kids…almost a co-pay to the ER.

One wise financial decision I did make was feeding my children breast milk. Guess what, it’s free!  Yes, I know that not everyone is capable of this because they don’t produce. (I have a feeling that is only a small percentage). But I would like to know how many “on your level” TRY to breastfeed.  I am not even going to attempt to calculate formula costs per year and how much that would improve someone’s life.

What the heck do you need to get a bank account that the patriot act requires?… An ID? My mother, WHO HAS BEEN TO JAIL FOR WRITING BAD CHECKS AND IS ON PROBATION, has a bank account!! By the way, my whole families’ credit is terrible, yet we still have bank accounts.  Ok, so let’s say you don’t have an ID or a social.  And you can’t afford to get an ID for non-drivers. Anyone can get a prepaid credit card that makes paying bills easier.  My grandmother still uses money orders to pay her bills once a month, not that complicated.

Poverty is not living in a weekly hotel eating nasty burritos.  It is having no roof over your head and drinking dirty water.  It is making $5 a month where a box of crayons cost that much.


Page 1 of 212
Back to top