Sunday, August 23, 2015

Money... It's a Hit!

"Don't Give Me That Goody Good... "
You Know the Rest, Sing Along!
I got my first real babysitting job when I was thirteen years old, and I have never been unemployed since then except on one short occasion when my ex-husband told me I didn't have to work. (That lasted two weeks. Yes, yes I HAVE to work.)

Most of the time, I have had more than one job. During college, I worked part time at the School of Education and the Space Physics Research Lab, and also cleaned houses on the side. I temped, I worked retail, and even did a stint at a place called the Safe Sex Store (believe me, you likely don't want to know details, but I was behind a counter so don't worry, I can still run for office someday.) Since college, I have worked five to six days a week for the last nearly two decades -- doctors offices, magazines, freelance writing and editing, tutoring, teaching high school and college, mentoring, cleaning houses, house- and dog-sitting, quality control, machine shop, coffee shop, video shop, health and beauty, social media/marketing... you name it, I have probably dabbled in it or spent a prolonged amount of time in it. I have a degree from the University of Michigan and one would think I'd be doing pretty well these days at nearly forty years old.

Well, that's true. I am. I am healthy, married, pregnant, and much more than content -- I am happy.

Oh, you're gauging how well I'm doing based on my financial status?

In that case, I'm a mess. True, we have no debt except for our house, but at the moment we make less than 30K a year combined and we're on Medicaid, WIC, and my husband and daughter are getting so many grants and scholarships from the federal and state governments to go to college your head would spin. Sadly, many of you think I'm the enemy right now. You're working so hard to support people like me, right? I should get off my lazy @$$ and get a job, right? You should be drug testing my whole family to be sure we aren't spending any of that money you give us on drugs, right? That we don't 'deserve' your money? In the course one short paragraph, I went from being an educated, intelligent, competent, hard-working, upstanding citizen to someone that has to live with shame and stigma, persecuted and scrutinized because I have the audacity to take handouts.

Yeah, you bet I'm taking handouts right now. I've worked 2/3 of my life so far, paid into this system every step of the way, and I'm not looking at this through the eyes of someone who 'deserves' it. I'm looking at this through the eyes of someone who needs it right now. There's nothing between the first couple of paragraphs and that third paragraph that changes who I am as a person -- but in the eyes of America, it certainly changes how people look at me.

When I stand in line at Meijer with my monthly WIC coupons, getting free milk and peanut butter and cereal and cheese, I can feel the discontent of the cashiers because of all the hassle they have to go through. I can feel the stares of the people behind me, watching as I painstakingly line up exactly what I'm allowed to 'purchase' in a row, separate transactions for each coupon, and then another transaction at the end for the things that aren't allowed to be purchased which I'm buying with my own money. (Yes, I'm STILL working... oh, you thought I was unemployed? No, remember? I still have TWO JOBS. My husband is also working while he takes a full load of credit hours each semester.) I am re-asked every time I go to refill a prescription at the pharmacy if my insurance has changed and, if not, why are they still billing my old insurance instead of Medicaid? (The answer is 'I don't know... you're the ones billing the old insurance, not me!) But I'm made to feel as though this change in my earning status and my family status (because, you see, I'm pregnant so there are FOUR people living in the household, not three...) makes me an outcast. It automatically makes me a pariah. Me: the girl who has held at least one job and up to four every single year of her life, even when eight months pregnant.


We live in a country where the minimum wage is $7.25 an hour. No, not just high schoolers working at McDonald's make this. (Servers make $2.13 an hour and are actually making NOTHING but your tips after taxes.) Many adults who have been laid off from good paying jobs of $25 due to cut backs in their industry are forced to go out and find a job making the same amount. Many college graduates still make this right out of college, and for a prolonged period of time. 40 hours a week at $7.25 an hour is $290 a week before taxes. For full time work. Add in having a family, not just being a single kid living at home making 'extra' money above your allowance... add in two parents both making $7.25 an hour working full time, then take out day care for each kid, rent or a mortgage, insurance on the house, the car payment, gas money, groceries, electricity bills, trash and water and sewer bills, forget any luxuries like internet or cable/satellite... people are barely making it these days. MOST people are barely making it.

And then there are the ones who are making it. The ones who look down at the rest of us, assuming we don't work (or at least we don't work hard). Assuming we are taking 'their' money. Assuming we'd rather sit on our fat, lazy butts than get off unemployment and that we're probably spending any money we have on drugs and beer and neglecting our children...

Does this sound too harsh?

Do you know anyone like this?

ARE you like this?

This is not an angry diatribe at the 1%. This is a reality check for anyone who makes assumptions about people who are struggling.

Matthew 25:34-40 says:

  Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

The bible doesn't tell us to check into people's backgrounds as much as possible before deciding if they deserve help. It says to help them. Jesus didn't do thorough investigations of work ethic and financial history before he loved people. He just loved them. He met their needs. He fed them. He spoke kindness to them. He lifted them up and empowered them.

I have to ask -- why aren't we doing the same?

Stephanie Jean