Linda Archive

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.

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.

 

http://nypost.com/2014/06/14/temp-to-hire-boom-diminishing-job-security-benefits-for-millions/

http://money.cnn.com/2014/04/25/news/economy/middle-class-paycheck/

 

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.

EXCUSES, EXCUSES, EXCUSES , COMPLAINING, COMPLAINING, COMPLAINING.

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.

 

On educated impoverishment – Rev. Roxanne Cottell

August 17, 2014, No Comments, Written by , Posted in Uncategorized

-From an email.

I read with a sick sense of delight, your essay about those whose lives float always in the balance between eating and buying tampons (vs. using a “pad” made of toilet paper…been there, done that, and still have to do that sometimes), which very well explained what it is like to live in poverty. Linda, I live in poverty. I am the mother of three kids, one who spends his days seeking out employment that he will never find while trying to get the classes he really wants at college and still maintaining his GPA let alone a social life. My only daughter has it set in her mind anymore that the only reason anyone her age- 15- should go to the mall is to hang out because she knows that her parents cannot afford to spend a mere ten bucks on her day with her friends. The little one is 9, and he does not realize that it is not normal for them, his parents and the dog to live in my parents’ double-wide mobile home, where we have lived since December of 2008 when their father ended up having a massive two sided heart attack.

This correspondence to you is not to give you a sob story, even as that may well what it sounds like. It is further evidence of what you yourself have observed as being the truth of the impoverished. Here is my observation of what I personally have gone through these last five years. Make absolutely no mistake in that poverty is not easy. I am educated. I also write. I am an ordained person who keeps a regular blog. I am an activist, championing those whose lives are marred with abuse at home and violence in the streets. This is another thing about poverty that no one thinks about – the fact that it is the truth that we here in ghettoland have to not only worry about feeding ourselves, about putting gas in the borrowed car, about who is sleeping on the floor tonight…me, or my kid? About how we will keep our hair clean with  hampoo from the dollar store. About how we will manage to keep the dog fed, even if it is on table scraps that we can scarcely afford not to eat ourselves. Poverty is difficult, because violence is such an issue with it, because it is not in the wealthier neighborhoods that it is made so obvious to the world as much as it is reported on telelvision news. You only hear about such things happening in wealthier households when someone bothers to say something without the benefit of an attorney present to tell his client when to shut the fuck up. We who are poor have to deal with honesty all the time. We cannot afford to be liars. We are already thought of as such, and because of this, we are also who cannot be or will not be trusted to be someone’s employee. Because we cannot be trusted as someone’s employee, we cannot get decent jobs, even with a college degree (BS- Behavioral Science, thank you very much). Because we cannot get decent jobs, and because all of the jobs that we do not qualify for we also cannot get (because we will cost too much at an hourly rate, because we are educated and should be fairly paid as though we are educated), here I sit, no job, living with my parents with my baby daddy and three children where I sleep nightly on the living room floor which doubles as my daughter’s bedroom.

The reason that I know now the poor are more likely to be mentally ill is because it is an everyday thing to worry. It is an everyday thing for me to worry about if there will be food for dinner, or if we will have to do like has been done on more than one occassion, which is that I sometimes, and shamefully so, hope to the Goddess that my kids will each be invited to eat dinner with one of their friends’ families. Besides, with all of the other things that I have to think about, those who would assume the very worst of people like me, I promise, could not ever live like this, ever. I don’t want to live like this. I want things back to how they were but that seems like a distant idea because unless someone has the forethought to think as you have and has bothered to look at what is truly there and is more prevalent in the lives of the poor in this country, I am assumed to be a drain on the economy.

I am a drain because I am educated and that alone makes me employable, at least in the eyes of those who have the very jobs that people like me used to seek out. When you have been told enough times that you are not what is needed, and yes, it is, in part, due to not only the “professional appearance” one must have when interviewing, but also the very energy on the collective face of the educated and degreed poor that makes the assumption of drug addiction and mental illness the assumed truth of us. The reality is that I have to deal with this very thing. I have to deal with the assumptions, and I have to deal with the emotional issues that I have because of the feelings that always happen that tell me that, even though I know I am every bit as worthwhile to anyone as I am to myself, I stil have to deal with hearing “no, we have filled the position.” That alone has caused me to stop looking for these invisible jobs that somewhere in the vicinity, someone else who also needed the job, ended up getting the job.

And so ensues the tears. And it is the tears that I cry, everyday now, that feel like lead falling out of my eyes. The tears tell the story of my own feelings of futility, of hopelessness and of people just not giving a good god damn about anything that does not equate to their own bottom line. I can tell you that the State of California’s GAIN/Welfare to work program sucks ass because it only addresses the needs of people who have never had any intention of working, of getting ahead in life, of supporting themselves. It does not do a thing at all for people like me who end up needing the program anyway because eventually, after having to go through so much for so little, you get mad, and then you cry, and then you need to see a shrink.

Linda, I need to see a shrink, seriously.

It gets tiring, crying all the time, and then getting mad because you know that you are going to have to beg people to help you eat, of all things, and you cry a lot because you feel like a piece of shit and really, even as one has had her moments where she could have earned, quite neatly, the “Asshole of the Year” award, I challenge anyone at all to find a person who does not have momentary bouts of human being-ness. Everyday I want to, at some point in my day, or at least for the fleeting moment that the thought crosses my mind, not be breathing anymore, but the feeling leaves me the moment that I think about those three kids. But then that moment leads to the other moment that reminds me that they see me crying, a lot.

This was written by the Rev. Roxanne Cottell. Find her @ReverendRoxie22 or at her blog.

Loop – anonymous

August 17, 2014, 2 Comments, Written by , Posted in Uncategorized

Excerpted from an email –

Thanks for taking time to try and share the world we live in that exists past hope and without expectations. The world of grey light and quiet drudgery that we entered thinking it was a tunnel with a light at the end of it, then came to eventually realize was simply existence, not a tunnel that we’d emerge from. I live past any sense of regret or resignation, without sadness: my world simply ‘is’.
One comment to your post on HuffPo is running through my mind on a continuous loop: “Work hard, save money!” they said. Hearing that in my mind woke me at 5:15 this morning, angry and baffled. These people’s math is worse than their empathy for “poor-ness” or whatever the hell we have. If I somehow I manage to save for a year maybe I can fill a cavity or buy a transmission for my old car. In this year I HAVE actually managed to save a couple grand, more than I have had in one place in years. Know what that is for? College for my 16 year-old. Think for a minute what 2 or 3000 dollars looks like in the scheme of a college education and come back when you stop laughing.
I am 51. There is simply NO mathematical way things will ever change for me. I’ll work until I drop dead in five or ten years so my remaining time will be spent teaching my son to do everything the opposite of what I have done.
Unfortunately I have tried as hard and as consistently as I can to be truthful, apply the golden rule and most of all be kind to people and that’s been pointless. I am not wired to tell him that those were where I went wrong. So about all I have is false hope that things will be better for him. But not much expectation that they will.
Sadness is for those who compare what they have in their lives to what they want to have. For existential frustration to exist it must have a force to fight against, a wall to push against. Where I live there is nothing to fight. You just keep running in place.
At least it’s quiet here.

A note on launching, from Linda Tirado

August 16, 2014, 2 Comments, Written by , Posted in Uncategorized

When I wrote a simple expression of feeling, I saw what people really thought of people like me. And a lot of it was misinformed bullshit. Poor is a matter of money, not intelligence.

A lot of  people haven’t ever thought about how the math works. I watched a sitting member of Congress (on the Budget Committee, no less!) confuse SNAP and cash welfare. He thought they worked the same. Some people have no idea how life in the service economy works, because nobody’s ever explained it to them.

The only way to fight that kind of silliness is to talk about how things really work. This is a platform of shared experience. We’ll publish what you send us here. If you like, we’ll keep you anonymous. If you want, we’ll link you. If you want help editing, we’re happy to. I’ll keep posting emails as I get permission, and I’ll keep posting excerpts from other blogs. Please click through and visit those pages. They are all illuminating.

You can reach us at bootstrapindustries@gmail.com or by filling out the form below. Thank you for your time and your support. I hope that you keep reading and that you share these stories widely.

-killermartinis

They said he was worth $9 a week – anonymous

August 15, 2014, 1 Comment, Written by , Posted in Uncategorized

This is an excerpt from an email I received. I’ve edited for typos and formatting, and to obscure identifying information.

 

For me this all came to a head with the Affordable Healthcare Act. I thought – gee, I’m finally going to be able to get the health care I need, right? I’m diabetic with thyroid issues, kidney stones, fibromyalgia and so many more problems. Was nice to think, next year I won’t have to go to the free clinic, I can go into a real doctor’s office and be seen. Be treated like everyone else… And then the information was received – that we are TOO POOR TO GET INSURANCE. WHAT?!?!?!?!?!?!!?!?! TOO POOR?? Oh, we won’t have to pay the penalty on our taxes (oh gee thanks) for not having insurance, and you can log back into the system after December 1st and see the plans you can pay to get, but you won’t get any assistance in getting them. Hang on… WHAT???!?!??! It took me days to process this. To realize that yet again I’ve been screwed.

We didn’t used to be poor. My husband and I both worked full time jobs in the mental health field as caregivers. We took care of the people that most don’t want to even see out in public. My husband had a nervous breakdown and had to quit his job, so it was up to me to support us. Things went well for a while. We invested more into our retail store, that site in our front yard and sales were good for a while – good meaning about $100-200 a month. It kept gas in the tank so I could continue to drive the hour to work. And then my kidneys shut down and I was in the hospital, then I was out of work for 6 months. That store kept food on the table and paid the bills as best we could. I borrowed to make ends meet.

I got back to work, found a job closer to home but it meant a pay cut. When comparing pay cut to  cost of gas, it was simply logical to work closer to home. I’ve been at this same job now for 8 years. My husband’s daughter graduated high school and moved in with us. Everyone was happy, we thought. We struggled but we still managed to make ends meet, and we even managed to go on a trip to the beach. Sure, we had to camp because it was cheaper than a hotel room, but I got to see the ocean, see where my husband grew up.

My husband’s mother died of breast cancer in our living room. We brought her into our home to care for her after her diagnosis (this was her second bout.) It was traumatic, it changed the dynamic of the family. I didn’t think my husband would survive it, but he did. I talked him into applying for a job at our new superstore when it opened. He not only landed a job, but he got better pay than most shift managers. He was happy, he was active, he was making friends! And then his back went out… and he was out of work for several months, eventually going back part time and fighting his way back to full time again.

Then that fateful day when he was hurt permanently. Workman’s Comp ruled our life. All the tests, driving five hours to another city to get into an upright/sitting MRI machine. All the medications, the hallucinations (seems he’s allergic to medication for nausea), the addictions to high powered pain medications. But even through all of this he kept on going and went back to working part time, because he knew we needed the income, all the while praying that the lawyer would get us a good settlement. In the end he had a small breakdown and quit his job. The corporate Workmans Comp valued his life at $9 a week and gave us a settlement based on that value, expecting him to live another 20 years. Shocking to know that his life was valued so low. During all of this and before we got the settlement, his daughter moved out and stopped speaking to us, her local friends and all the family on her fathers side. He was devastated. He lost his mom, estranged from his brother for a long time and now his daughter as well.

We tried to spend the money in an intelligent way. Of course we blew some of it, everyone would. However, we paid off the bills, the van and the clothes washer I was paying on. We had our store’s building enlarged. We had a tin roof installed over our existing leaky roof (I actually took a bad fall, injuring my back, because of the leaky roof) and we added on a covered porch.

So here we are. He’s trying to get disability – we’re on round two and we contracted our lawyer to handle this round. His depression is terrible – in fact he had his third breakdown this past week. My hours were cut last year when Obamacare was announced – funny how ironic that is. My hours being cut for a benefit that I’m too poor to even get. So every week I rob peter to pay paul to keep the lights on, phone on, insurance on the van, food on the table. When the van broke down several times I took out loans that now take half my pay automatically. My mom had her third stroke and I decided that for Thanksgiving this year we’re going to go see her. It’s only a 6 hr drive, but that’s $160 in gas that I don’t have, so I borrowed more money. It’s only money, right? I’ll make more… but the thought of not seeing mom and her dying… It’s only money.

I’ve tried hard to not think about our situation, about the last 10 years, but finding about being too poor for insurance last week just brought all of it to a head and I’ve been thinking about the dynamic of being poor. I remember emailing my boss about the health insurance info and commenting about “the futility of it all.” Add to all of this is the holidays – the constant pressure to spend spend spend because it makes people HAPPY! No, it doesn’t. It makes them poor, it makes them depressed, it makes them desperate.

So that brings me back to your post. Words still fail me when I think about your post. You could have been describing our lives. How I work my job and come home and work online, trying to make more money to pay the bills that will need more money to pay next month. I know that we’re not the only people in this situation, but we don’t talk about it. We try to “keep our chin up”, find ways of distracting ourselves, or simply go to sleep. 

The spoon theory of being poor

August 15, 2014, 1 Comment, Written by , Posted in Uncategorized

The point I’d like to make is that we all need to be less judgmental of other people’s choices. I read news stories about people in poverty or in debt, and they are always followed by a string of comments about how the person deserved what they got because they made a poor choice, and what did they expect.

Well, it’s very easy to sit in comfort and say, ‘I would never do that’. But the truth is that if you had to live in those circumstances, you probably would do that, or something equally ill-advised. First, because often all of the options are bad. And second, because the ability to make good decisions is not a natural virtue — it’s an ability that fluctuates according to one’s situation. We are all Charlie, to some extent.

We also need to stop thinking of poverty as a condition that anyone could just work their way out of if they were really trying. Social mobility hasn’t been a statistical reality in America for forty years — and that’s not because people suddenly got lazier. It’s because the environment changed.

We aren’t all working with a full set of spoons, silver or otherwise. Some of us have physical challenges, some mental, some financial. You wouldn’t tell someone with cancer that they could get better if they were really trying, right?

Then don’t imagine that anyone could just shake off a mental illness, or pull themselves out of poverty, if they wanted to badly enough. We want to. Almost to a person, I promise, we all want to live better lives.

-Excerpted from an essay published on Pocketmint

Find Karawynn on Twitter @pocketmint

Perspective: Mac McGill on the reality of homelessness

August 15, 2014, 2 Comments, Written by , Posted in Uncategorized

I want to tell you about a guy named Mac McGill. He lives in Santa Barbara. And he’s been doing a lot of work to tell the stories of homeless people. I’d consider him an authority on the subject, as he’s spent a lot of time homeless himself.  He’s kind of awesome, and you should pay attention to the passion and the explanation and the conflicted emotions he is willing to share with the world if it helps. He is fiery and true, and a generous man with a lot of good insight. Learn from him.

 

Last night around 2 AM brutally cold winds strong enough to knock over many of the full trash cans that had been put out descended on Santa Barbara with absolutely no warning. At least not for us homeless. It was cold enough to wake me to where I had to scramble to pull my parka and overpants out of my case, and windy enough to make it difficult to do so. I had fully planned on going to my new job today, which is about aa mile and a half away. However, when I woke up the chill was penetrating enough that taking off my winter wear was not really feasible. It was quite simply to damn cold to even consider riding a bike without my parka and over-pants, but then what do I do once it warms up? My pack is already too full to accommodate them. It would be warm enough by the afternoon that wearing it really wouldn’t be an option, and I am already wearing dirty clothes, and the commute whether by bicycle or on foot already causes me to sweat pretty heavily. It will be days before I can do laundry. So I ask you what your willingness to endure all of that would be, and how often you even have to face decisions like this. I would quite happily bootstrap myself up if the opportunities were not only more lucrative, but even feasible given my circumstances. Exactly how many people want an unshaven employee who reeks of sweat and hasn’t slept well because of factors utterly beyond his control? The solution we are constantly given is to “get a job.”

Well, I have a goddamned job and it isn’t fucking working.

-May 6, 2014

Find him at http://macmcgill.wordpress.com/

Or on Twitter @MacMcGill7

Page 1 of 212
Back to top