“I sold my plasma to make some extra money.”
In 2007, at age 19, I was laid off for a second time as the Great Recession came into full swing. Despite a long effort to look for work and find ways to better my life, in 2010, I was unemployed again. The only job I could find after many months of searching was at a Walmart. Although I worked as many hours as I could, and sold plasma for additional income, I could not afford to pay all my bills. My car was repossessed, my phone was turned off, and my credit cards were cancelled. I quickly found that my Walmart wage could not support college attendance.
I moved to Oregon a few months later, hoping to find better work and a better opportunity for my future. However, the only work I was able to attain was as a teacher’s aide at a local high school. Although I liked the work, it paid the minimum wage and required only a few hours a week. This meant that — despite my best efforts to look for more work, enroll in college, and continue selling off my plasma for extra income — I could not afford rent. By the spring of 2011, I became homeless, and could only find shelter in a broken-down SUV.
For months I lived in the SUV while continuing to apply for any and all jobs I could. I began receiving food stamps and eating free meals provided by charities, and continued to sell plasma. I did all that I could to not look homeless for job interviews, including having a set of clean clothes and maintaining a membership at the local YMCA. In all my searching, I never gained employment.
Eventually, I became ill and had to stop looking for work. Selling my plasma twice a week for about a year, as well as being undernourished, were major factors in my becoming ill. Not only could I not sell plasma while I was sick, but, because of that, I had to give up my YMCA membership, haircuts, and clean clothing. Because food stamps only provided for about half the month’s food costs, I needed what little money I made from selling my plasma for food. It was in the spring of 2011, when I reached the point where I had to choose my health instead of the now unrealistic idea of finding a job.
By summer I made a few friends who were local activists, and college students. Because I made so little in 2010, I now qualified for some income-based grants to attend college. Over the next three years my friends helped me out enough that I was eventually able to get back on my feet, attend college, and find a place to stay. It wasn’t easy, and I learned a lot along the way.
The lesson that became most clear to me during this hardship was that my story is not unique. I learned that despite what I had been told, my becoming homeless was not all my fault. I learned that more than 10 million people in the U.S. had been laid off since the beginning of the Great Recession. I learned that since 2009 there have never been less than 12 million Americans unemployed and looking for a job every month. I learned so much, but I above all, I learned that a great injustice had been done to myself, my family, and many millions in my generation. I learned that if this was to be rectified, if justice was once again to prevail, if people weren’t made to be unemployed against their will, things needed to change in a big way.