Social Work

When Working Isn’t Working – Part II

7 Jul ’09

So let’s say a single mom with 2 kids in DeKalb County finds one job that pays $11.00/hour and another job paying $7.50/hour.  She has to work both jobs full-time.  She has one child in elementary school and one child in daycare.  She works 80 hours a week.  She rarely sees her children.  She makes too much money to qualify for any public assistance, so she must juggle food, housing, childcare, transportation, and other basic living costs on her own.  She can’t afford a car or car insurance, so she relies on public transportation to get to and from work, the grocery store, the after school program, etc.  This adds at least an hour to her daily commute.  She can only manage to grab around 4 hours of sleep a night.  What is the quality of her life?

I’m not saying this isn’t doable.  On the contrary, hundreds of women are out there working two jobs and doing whatever they can to support their family.  It’s certainly possible and a very common reality.

But is this the way things SHOULD be?  Should people be paid so little for the work they do that they must take on second and third jobs, must sacrifice precious time with family and loved ones, must forego playing an active role in raising their children… just to survive?

Elizabeth

Elizabeth

When I lived in Phoenix I worked with a Sudanese refugee family.  The breadwinner, Elizabeth, was 28.  She had moved to the U.S. with a 4-year-old son, a 11-year-old nephew, and her 17-year-old sister.  For 2 years I did my best to help them survive.  My best wasn’t very good.  I watched as Elizabeth found a job, signed up for subsidized day care and food stamps, and still couldn’t pay rent.  So Elizabeth found a second job, but was not given full-time hours at either one, and lost her subsidized day care and food stamps were taken away because she “made too much money”.

I watched as they still struggled to pay rent, and as the 17-year-old turned 18 and dropped out of school because she was needed to watch the 4-year-old and work, as well, trying to pay rent.

I was there when the 4-year-old got a cockroach lodged in his ear – not once but TWICE- and had to go to the emergency room to have it removed.  Because even though the family kept a very clean house, the mismanaged, dilapidated apartment complex they worked so hard to live in would not take care of a severe infestation problem.

I watched as their spirits were crushed.  As Elizabeth – who was once so thankful to be here in the U.S., the land of possibility – slowly sank into a depression.  Her relatives had been killed or were living in refugee camps, so she certainly had a somewhat better life in the U.S., in terms of basic survival.  But the cost of that survival, the toll it took on her health and her happiness… it was a bigger sacrifice than she expected and it is a sacrifice that I believe no one should have to make.

Apat, Aguer, and Goch

Apat, Aguer, and Goch

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2 Comments

  • Reply alienn4hire 8 Jul ’09 at 2:43 pm

    I'm not big on blogs & whatnot, but this was a really good read. Very moving.

    • Reply Leah_108 9 Jul ’09 at 2:22 pm

      Thanks for reading and commenting! I'm glad you were moved. I just hope it moves people to ACTION… we need self-sufficient wages. People should be able to support their families if they are working full time.

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