My household consists of myself, my husband, and my two daughters, 8 and 17. (My 17 year old is half of a set of twins, but because I fail as a parent I had to let my 17 year old son go and live with my mother, I’ll cover that in a future post.) So we are a family of four.
My husband has what many would consider to be a “good job” because he works for a major communications corporation. He earns just over $16 an hour, so we do not qualify for any government subsidies like food stamps, housing, or child care subsidies. Many would assume that we should be living fairly well.
They would be wrong.
Every month we are roughly $400 short of making ends meet. This is our regular survival budget. This is windows open instead of running an air conditioner, a flip-phone prepaid cell, just enough internet so that the girls can do their schoolwork, and a satalite bill that is part of a contract we agreed to when we were doing better. (That is thankfully in its last year now!) This is a beans and rice level budget. But we still come up $400 short.
The answer to what we should do seems logical enough, I should get a job too. Right?
Except that, after doing some math, my husband and I found out that if we include the added cost of transportation, plus the additional cost of child care, with the wages I’d earn doing the job I have known and loved doing for 20 years, we wouldn’t even break even.
In the end we would end up paying for me to go to work.
Let me explain:
We only have one vehicle.
This means that even though I am qualified for, and have even been offered, a management level position, I cannot take one.
Even an assistant manager in a retail environment must be able to be “on call” 24 hours a day. Meaning that at a moment’s notice I have to be able to drop everything and run to take care of my store. If someone calls out, I have to be ready to take over. If the store is robbed, I have to be there. I have to be able to devote myself to my job first and foremost. Without fail, and without excuse….for $8.50 an hour.
But I have an 8 year old daughter. And we live 1.9 miles away from her school. Plus, in that 1.9 miles there are 2 registered sex offenders with crimes against children her age range and gender listed as their offenses. There is also an industrial business of some kind that has huge trucks coming in and out of it on the route she would walk; and there are no sidewalks there. At 2 miles, she would be able to take the bus, but at 1.9 she is considered a “car rider” and someone must pick her up.
That only covers to and from school. What about the fact that she gets out of school at 2:30, but her older sister doesn’t walk through the door until 2 hours later? Did you know that in most states leaving a child that young unsupervised for that long is considered legal abandonment? How about that forcing a child that young to walk such a dangerous route to and from school is also considered, by law, to be abusive and can be considered abandonment as well?
Now I will bet that someone out there is screaming to just put my younger daughter in day care or after school care. That’s a wonderful idea, I honestly wish I would have thought of it myself!
Only I did.
The school has an after school care program that is based on a sliding income scale and runs until 5pm.
But before we get to that cost, let me tell you about another cost.
My oldest daughter doesn’t get off the school bus until 4:30, at the earliest. Then she would still have to walk the nearly 2 miles up to the school to get her little sister, then two miles back. The walk there…and I know, because I actually walked this route to try to make this work…takes an hour to get there, and another hour back.
So my oldest would already be half an hour past when the aftercare program ends by getting there at 5:30. At this time of year, it would also be dark by the time they got to the most dangerous part of the route back…the part in front of the industrial area. The part with no street lights or sidewalks.
At this point, in perfect conditions, they would get back home at 6:30, make and eat their own dinner by 7, shower, and put the little one to bed by 8. Hopefully, one or both of their parents would be able to make it home by 9 or 10 so that the oldest could go to bed by then.
That sounds like it should be workable right?
So why isn’t it?
Picture my girls.
My 8 year old is fairly sturdy for her age, but she is still an 8year old.
My 17 year old is 5’2 and about 100 pounds in boots.
They are also beautiful. And not just to a mother’s eyes either. Both girls are naturally stunning and attract attention wherever they go.
But here’s a secret no one knows; my 17 year old and I have been starving ourselves for months so that the younger one and my husband can get enough to eat.
Since we were both a little overweight anyway, we make light of it and pretend we do it so that we can keep fit, but she and I basically live on coffee since it suppresses your appetite. I make sure to give her more than I get, but she still does without.
The other day I had to pick her up from school because she passed out during class. Luckily we were able to pass it off as her having the flu, but she has less body fat than I do and is still developing so she still needs more food than she is getting.
Meaning that right now she is barely strong enough to even make that walk every day. In her current state, even combined, my girls do not stand a chance against even a single attacker.
This is supposed to be worth $8.50 an hour.
Additionally, because you are responsible for deposits, you have to have a vehicle that is reliable enough to make it to and from the bank daily. Meaning that, even though I would only earn half of what my husband does on the hour, I would be forced to monopolize our only means of transportation.
We do have a public transportation system, but he can get off work sometimes as late as 9 pm…way after the buses have run. As well, they don’t run anywhere near where he works, so taking the bus would mean an extra hour or more of travel time…getting him home around 10 or 11 on a bad night.
He could always walk, but that is still a 2 hour trek through unlit areas with no sidewalks. And if it’s a night when he gets off at 9, that’s still him getting back around 11.
So let’s start adding up the money now. At $8.50 an hour I could expect to bring home around $250 a week. The aftercare that would cost us around $100 a week…plus an extra $5 for every 10 minutes after 5pm. Since my oldest would be at least 30 minutes late every day of the week that would bring the cost up to $175 a week under perfect circumstances. The added cost of transportation at around an extra $50 a week brings the total up to $225, leaving us with a $25 profit. Since I would have to buy more of the kinds of foods than can be fixed quickly so that the girls can make their own meals, there goes the $25 and then some for that.
So, for the privilege of $8.50 an hour I am expected to risk the lives of my girls, any time I could spend with my family, additional wear on my only means of transportation, spend more money, and end up essentially working for nothing. And these numbers are only valid if I can manage a full time position.
Part time, which is what is available, would quickly put us in a deficit, since I would end up bringing home half as much, but would still be expected to work up to five days a week…although it would only be for a few hours at a time.
This is what I mean when I say that even though we are in dire need of a second income, we would only end up paying for me to go to work.
But guess what!
I’m one of the lucky ones. I have a partner who is able to give us an option.
But what about the ones who don’t? What about a family where both parents can only find part-time, low-wage, work? The kind of work where your hours are so erratic that you can’t even take a second job? Some places even insist that you agree not to take a second job as a hiring condition.
What happens to the single parent trying to make ends meet in this same situation? What if they end up having to work shifts outside of care giver hours like overnights? What if they only have young children? What if they have older children but the kids aren’t responsible?
You have to know the type I’m talking about, right?
The deadbeat pieces of shit who lazily sit on their asses and live off taxpayer money?
You know them?
- U.S. poverty rate remains high even counting government aid (reuters.com)
- Think you’ll never need a handout? Research shows you might (pbs.org)
- American Poverty: The Way It Was and Our Own 30 Million (huffingtonpost.com)
- Poverty in 13 states is worse than we thought (washingtonpost.com)
- Minimum Wage, Minimum Life (goodmenproject.com)
- Poverty level doesn’t budge: Still 50 million (money.cnn.com)
- Open Thread: “Poverty Is Mainstream” (balloon-juice.com)
- How Much Do You Need to Survive: An Interactive Guide to the Living Wage (pbs.org)