I work at a gas station four days a week. I usually work the morning shift, opening the store at 4.30 AM and sticking around until two. My boss, the owner, usually shows up around six am in a bad mood, and makes my job that much more difficult. See, he used to be President and CEO of a multimillion dollar corporation, but he lost his company and all his money to a gambling addiction. I felt kind of bad for him, but I figured that his story meant that he had a newer appreciation for people who were less fortunate than him, that he understood that sometimes, no matter how hard you work, you still end up on the bottom.
See, I used to have a job I loved where I earned nearly $100,000 a year in salary plus benefits. I was pretty respected, promoted fairly high up within my organization, and the people that worked under me liked me because I was always fair, and honest, and I had integrity. I’ve worked hard most of my life, and I was proud of myself because I had accomplished quite a bit, despite the odds being stacked against me from the start. I put all that aside to help my husband accomplish his goals, to have my daughter, and to spend the first year of her life with her. My family is far more important to me than anything else.
My boss is a little different — money and status are what matter to him. The more he makes, the better. He doesn’t like people, and despite being one of the middle class, he still thinks he’s Mitt Romney. He’s incredibly cheap, and seems to hate women. At least, he’s far more polite to my husband than he is to me. Me, he calls stupid. Tells me I’m ugly, an idiot, calls me lazy and continually tries to bait me into a political discussion at work, so he can shout out racial slurs and comments in an attempt to make me mad. Apparently, he gets a kick out of breaking people.
My husband and I do not have a lot of money. We get food stamps and a little bit of cash assistance, and recently had to move in with my in-laws when our lease expired — we couldn’t afford the $425 a month in rent that we were paying. This means, that despite me being very Jewish, and therefore dressing modestly wearing a tiechel and long sleeves and long pants, as you can see below, I sometimes find I have to work on Shabbos.
Last Saturday, I showed up for my 4.30 AM shift. I opened the tills, made coffee, heated up the burritos, the usual. Around six am, my boss walked in. I gave him a hand with his bags, and decided to dust the cigarette display, since business was a bit slow. As you can see by my photo above, I dress fairly conservatively. Apparently, this isn’t conservative enough for my boss, who told me my breasts were too prominent. This isn’t the first time he’s made a comment like this. Previous issues involved my butt — I was supposed to be wearing shirts long enough to cover my back, which I hadn’t been doing. He proceeded to lecture me for a good while on how I must be stupid to think that what I was wearing was acceptable. He asked me what my husband thought, and, unlike the me that most of my friends have grown to know, I answered with “I’m sorry. I will try to hide them more.”
I used to be a proud person. I’m a PhD candidate, preparing to go back to school next year. I started at my university at 16, after moving out of my parents’ house at 15. I graduated with two STEM type degrees at 21. I have worked every day of my life, until my husband and I decided to have a baby. I graduated with honors, top of my graduating class in terms of grades not only in my program, but campus wide. Now I work two formal part-time jobs, and a series of odd jobs cleaning, doing yard work, writing, or babysitting. On average, I get to spend two to four hours with my kid. That’s it. The rest of the time I’m working.
Last December, my husband, Matthew, lost his job. His employer wanted him to forge legal documents, and he’d refused. We went to the unemployment office, hoping to get benefits, but, alas, his employer had put down that it was “voluntarily termination,” so we were told he didn’t qualify. We asked about cash assistance and food stamps. They told him he could have a meager $215 a month, for a family of three, but it would require him driving thirty miles to the next town to take “cooking classes” twice a week, and complete 40 hours of job hunting. Gas, in our fifteen year old piece of junk car would cost us about $30 a week — that’s nearly 56% of what we’d be getting in benefits. Still, it was better than nothing. They then told us that the job hunting required him to drive into town every day as well — to drop off his forms so they could call and make sure he really did apply. Well, that would cost us more than we’d get in cash assistance, so that was out. We applied for food stamps instead. My daughter was eight months old. We’d figure out diapers some other way, but the $367 we would get would cover her formula and some food for us. We ate turkey sandwiches for two months.
The maximum cash assistance benefits via TANF for a family of three in my state of New Mexico is $447. This is nowhere near enough to live on for a single person, much less a family of three. If you are employed, like I am, you get less. The $215 that we were told we would receive, weren’t worth it. We would spend more money trying to keep up with requirements, and end up in a twisted cycle of debt, where we would never get free.
Employers know this. They know they can get away with these things. They know there’s a big long line of people waiting for a job — any job — they know that when you have a family, you can’t afford to take risks that could leave you without a job. When my husband stood up to his boss — he was fired. How do I know that won’t happen to me if I complain too?
Matthew still has been unable to find steady work. Our combined income between my two part-time jobs, and our odd jobs is just under $600 a month. I can’t afford to lose any work, so when my boss makes comments about how stupid I am, how lazy I am, how ugly and pathetic I am, I suck it up. When he tells me that my breasts are too prominent, or my butt is too obvious, I say I’m sorry, and I scrounge up some duct tape. I go back to work Monday — I’ll be taping them down and hoping for the best.
I’m sure I can complain. I know I have every right too. I know my boss is a right jerk. He knows I won’t complain. How can I? He knows I won’t risk losing my job, especially not with my family relying on me. I’ll go without socks, and buy my kid shoes. I’ll skip breakfast, and feed it to my kid instead. I’ll sell our car, and hitchhike wherever I need to go to pay my bills. I’ll put up with all manner of abuse, if it means I can come home, hug my little girl, and kiss her beautifully round belly, buy her the things she needs, and some cute, inexpensive toys.
I wish I could say that my story is unique. I wish I could say that this sort of thing is rare, or unusual. But it isn’t. According to the latest census data, 15.1% of total Americans live below the poverty line. 22% of children under the age of 18 live in poverty.
That’s 22% of children with inadequate food, shelter, resources…not grown adults. Not people like my husband and myself who can suck it up and sleep outside. Children.
Paul Ryan believes that raising taxes on families like mine by 2% will somehow feed starving children. It makes sense really. What families like mine really need is less money. Duh!
Cuts to medicare, Medicaid, Pell grants, food stamps, Temporary Assistance For Needy Families (TANF), social security. Cutting these things will end our underemployment, feed my kid, AND help me pay my bills? Really? But it is so…illogical….
Oh, that’s right, I forgot, I don’t count because I’m poor. Clearly, the only possible way for my family to be poor is if we’re lazy, right? We don’t WANT to work or anything. We’d much rather mooch off my in-laws, who live month-to-month on meager Social Security checks, leaving us to work together to make ends meet in a single household. I mean, I don’t pay income tax, so why should I get anything in return? It isn’t like these benefits are a stepping stone onto better jobs and better incomes where we would have to pay taxes or anything…
And really, how dare I whine about my life when Ann Romney is suffering? People are calling her husband on his lies! That’s just plain mean! I should sympathize, right? I just don’t understand how hard it is to be rolling in cash, not have to work, and have people cheering for me all the time.
So, when I read things like Paul Ryan’s budget plans, when I hear things like Mitt Romney’s infamous 47% comment, when I hear Ann Romney talk about how hard her life is, I get frustrated. See, I don’t really have the moral turpitude to come up with plans that steal money from the poor to line the pockets of rich folks. I don’t have the time to host $50,000 a plate dinners. I don’t own a horse, or a yacht, nor do I have a nanny, or designer clothing, or much clothing at all. These are people who have never been where I’ve been. These are people who claim they speak for me, but whose biggest problem is that people caught them in their own lies.
I guess it is easy to take money away from starving children when they aren’t yours. It’s easy to take money away from poor families when you aren’t the one standing in the baby aisle, trying to decide where to spend your last twenty dollars: formula, or diapers? Which does your kid need more? Remember this story when you vote in November.