“I’m glad to be better off than I once was, but even $21 per hour isn’t enough to lift us out of poverty. It would at least be nice to not always have to cut and juggle which bills to pay, and to have a little left over at the end of the month.”
I’ve come a long way over the past 20 years, and yet it sometimes still feels like not far enough. Today, I work in social services earning $21 per hour. It sounds like a lot, especially compared to the $5.34 per hour I made in 1995, but my family still lives in poverty.
In 1995, I was a single, Native American mother. Finding a job was next to impossible, and the only rent I could afford for myself and my teenage son was single-room occupancy. Thankfully, I was able to get a position as a desk clerk for the building where we lived, which helped us scrape by.
Over the next few years, my wages began to increase. Just as they increased to $11, I took custody of my sister’s three children. I had to move into a three-bedroom apartment because now I had two boys and two girls, ages 6 to 16.
Our transportation was the public bus system. We did our grocery shopping, our doctor’s appointments, and all of our travel on the bus. We had to get up at 4 a.m. so that I could get the children on the bus and to childcare. Our lives were very difficult and I was exhausted most of the time. With the help of food boxes, my children never went to bed hungry, but at times, I did.
We did our budgeting as a family. We had to be intentional with every dollar we had. On payday, we would sit down at the table; all of our bills were written on a white board. I would write the check, my son would use the calculator and mark it down in the checkbook. One daughter would mark it off the whiteboard, another would put it in an envelope and hand it to the youngest and she would lick it and put a stamp on it. Then we would see how much money we had left and choose the next bill to pay.
If we had money left over, each month one child would get to choose what family activity we could do. We were occasionally able to go to the museum or the zoo.
Today, I finally make more money, but we still live in poverty. My other sister lives with us, along with my 15-year-old nephew, a high school sophomore. The other children are out of the house, but my oldest daughter is already faced with student debt, and I know my middle child will face student debt once she gets out of school, too.
I’m glad to be better off than I once was, but even $21 per hour isn’t enough to lift us out of poverty. It would at least be nice to not always have to cut and juggle which bills to pay, and to have a little left over at the end of the month.