Thursday, February 28, 2013

Poor by Profession

As everyone has been talking about the sequester the last couple weeks I hear a lot of blame being thrown around.

Now, I'm not here to say that I know who to blame, I'm sure there is a lot to go around (especially in Washington).  But I would like to share my point of view when I hear the blame being put on everyone who's "draining" the government by using government assistance.

It seems to me that everyone likes to lay as much blame as possible at the feet of the lazy poor.  Those who are able to work, but don't.  Those who are working just barely and then taking as much government assistance as they can.

Let me try to share my story so maybe someone will see just how offensive this is.  Especially in light of the CEO's and high ranking company officials, especially at banks, who get millions in "bonuses" at the same time as their companies are taking massive government bailouts.

We are teachers.  

We chose this profession because we felt called to it.  We knew going in that it would NEVER make us rich.  We don't do it for the money.  And that right there seems to be the key to teachers.  If we did it for the money everyone would say we were awful and evil.  Yet, many many teachers consider changing professions and many of them work second jobs in the summer or weekends just.to.make.ends.meet.  I don't know any doctors or lawyers or any other highly trained professionals who have to take extra jobs just to get by while working in their main profession.  And would you like teachers to teach the next generation who are only there for the money and don't really care about the students?  (not to mention that we are required by law to have continuing education degrees on our own dime to even keep our job - I can't think of any other industry that requires that without paying for it, or at least subsidizing it)

I saw a political cartoon the other day that so perfectly makes my point.  Reporters and politicians storming into a classroom asking a teacher what she was doing wrong when on the front of every desk in the room were the situations of her students.  Teenage parent, abused child, had no breakfast, bullied, etc.  And we wonder why teachers have a hard time teaching students who are not fully present in the classroom?  We do it because we truly care about these students and we want them to succeed not just academically, but as a whole person.  It is a calling and no amount of money can make it different.  But it would be nice to have enough to live on.

Right now, I am a stay at home mother.  I have four small children, only one of whom is just this year school age.  Even with one child in daycare full time it would be half of a teacher's salary.  When we only had one child we could get by on only my husband's salary.  So I stayed home.  When we had two children it became a stretch.  Having four means that if I were to work full time I would be spending more on child care than I would take home every month.  How does that work in any economy?

So, I stay home for now, and we tighten our belts as much as we can.  It's funny because every time I see one of those articles about "10 Quick Ways to Save Each Month" I click because I wonder if there's something I'm missing.  But every single thing on those lists we already do.  We don't drink coffee, and maybe once a month get a "fancy" drink from a coffee stand.  We have one cell phone (and not a smart one) between the two of us.  We don't have cable, we have Netflix that costs us $8.50 a month and the kids watch it for an hour a day so I can get a shower.  We don't eat out.  Last week we went out for ice cream.  That's the extent of what we can afford.  We don't have date nights or go to movies because we can't afford that, let alone a babysitter (yes, Mom, we totally appreciate you watching the boys so we can have a break!)

We live out in a "poor" area in a small house because our parents' paid the down payment for us.  Now our mortgage is the same as the rent was on our 2 bedroom apartment.  If they hadn't done it we'd still have 4 kids in a teeny tiny 2 bedroom apartment.  But our house is enough and I'm not complaining about it.

All of these things are choices we have made. 


However, every time I hear someone talking about the way people on government assistance are lazy it makes my blood boil.

When is it enough?  When am I being frugal enough to qualify for government assistance?  If I let you come over and scrutinize my finances with a fine tooth comb would you still think there were things I wasn't doing well enough?  Where is the line that says even if you are poor you still deserve the dignity of being treated as a real human being instead of a leech on society?

Would you say that we are unworthy because we spend more on food than you deem necessary?  Never mind that we need to eat gluten free, which is very expensive.  Never mind that I don't buy highly processed chemical filled sugary substitutes for food that actually cost less than real whole food.  Never mind that I basically cook my family a healthy meal from scratch every night.  And yes, we do eat rice and beans too.

What about the body products that I use?  Are those too expensive because I refuse to put petroleum based chemicals that have proven to cause cancer in lab animals on my children?  Because I probably still spend less in a month than most people do on personal care products.

Where is the line?

Is it okay for you to make me feel like a worthless stupid mother because I get WIC checks?  To threaten me when I have a different opinion on how to care for my children?  Is it okay for you to treat me like I couldn't possibly know anything just because my children get some state medical insurance?  Does the fact that I am poor mean my college education was a waste and I couldn't possibly have learned anything since I am not a contributing member of society (and here contributing only seems to mean making money)?

I have faced each of these scenarios multiple times.  I am by nature, not a confrontational person so usually I say as little as necessary to get my point across (because I will NOT back down when it comes to my children) and walk away.  But just because I don't react doesn't mean it doesn't still hurt.

I am hurt.

I am hurt every time someone makes a blanket statement about how anyone on welfare is lazy.  How we are "gaming" the system by taking every advantage we possibly can - implying that it is at their expense.  Last time I checked we all benefit from some form of government services.

I am hurt when it is implied that you MUST take a second job before you dare take any form of assistance, never mind the hurt that it would cause to your family, effectively making you a one parent household at all times.  How does this improve the stability of the family and the future of our country?

We are poor by profession.  

There is very little we can do to change this (no merit based raises for teachers) except to simply change our profession.  Maybe some would say that's what you should do, but when is the almighty dollar the end goal of life?  Our life as we live it is not bad.  We have food, shelter, friends, and family.  We don't need much assistance to get by and have actually turned down some that we qualify for.  We love teaching and don't want to change professions and lose the chance to help our students.

Is it too much to ask you to respect our choices and refrain from being mean and judgmental without knowing the whole story?

6 lovely comments:

Kristi Ahrens said...

Krista, this is wonderfully poignant. You are so right about so many of these things.

My heartfelt apologies to you, because I did used to be someone who demonized the "poor" and saw $$$ instead of people. Then I met Jesus, and he enlightened me:) Thankful for his grace.

Thanks for sharing your thought. I'm going to share this with some of my teacher friends.

Krista said...

Thanks Kristi,

You are not alone in your sentiments. Which is partly why I've written this. I know myself, how easy it is to judge someone, and I'm certain I never know the whole story. It's much easier to make blanket judgements on a group when you DON'T know the whole story. :) Which is why I'm sharing mine.
I'm certain that being an orchardist is not easy either and that only comes from growing up around here, I don't really know that!

Eloise Morgan said...

Well said. I salute your voice and integrity. The foundations of our nation will not crumble when we have families and teachers who are not motivated by the need to have all the material things the world says we should have. That being said, you deserve good salaries and the availability without shame of any assistance we as a society can provide for you. I love you, Krista, and I pray "heaps" of grace for your spirit.

Justina Gemignani said...

Thank you for sharing your story! Our situation over the last few years has been similar yet very different than yours at the same time, if that makes any sense. When we lived in WI, I was a teacher in a state where they weren't hiring teachers. I worked 3 jobs to support my husband and I. I was a substitute teacher with no benefits, worked at a clothing store on the weekends, and every weeknight plus all day on Sundays I worked at a cheese shop. I was regularly gone working from 6 am to 10 pm every weeknight and on the weekends, I worked until at least 5 if not 9 pm. My husband was in school full time and worked at a farm supply store 25 hours a week on top of that. It was not a fun lifestyle. 4 jobs between the two of us and we didn't qualify for any assistance. I made around $20,000 after taxes per year of working my tail off at 3 jobs. Unfortunately, because of our inability to qualify for anything, we had to turn to credit cards. I owed $40,000 in school debt right after college, and we quickly realized that paying the minimum balance on school debt and living in a tiny crappy apartment still cost nearly twice what we were bringing in. Because of our circumstances, we ended up accruing a lot of debt over the span of a couple years of living this way. Eventually, we had to accept a job on the other side of the country from our family in order to get a pay raise to try and get out of our situation. Slowly, but surely, we are getting out of the hole.

Many days I wish we would have qualified for something. We came so close to qualifying, but still not "poor enough" to be able to get help. Long after many of our friends in similar situations but just a little more poor are off of assistance, we will be paying off our debts. It is frustrating the way the assistance programs work. I think there are people who are infuriated by others just because they are on assistance and I think that's wrong. Nobody knows what your life is truly like unless they step inside of your shoes. I do recognize that most of the "haters" are people in situations like mine who didn't qualify and wish they had and now will pay for it for years. While I think it's frustrating, there's no use in being angry about it or angry towards others. The negative energy that being angry brings into my life is not worth it.

The people I would be angry at wouldn't even be the people I'm "jealous" of that got assistance. Who would I have to be angry at?
-Myself, for going into a profession that as you said is a "poor" profession
-My college for telling me that my career had a 97% placement rating. I look at my friends who went for teaching in college and most of them are working in grocery stores. Even if they are teaching, they all work 2nd jobs.
-The world, because even though I "did everything right" and went to school and worked 3 jobs, I still couldn't make it.

Thank you for sharing your story! Being broke is a frustrating situation regardless of being on assistance or not. I hope that someday you are able to go back to teaching. I think you have a great outlook and kids would be lucky to have you as a teacher.

Krista said...

Thank you Justina, for sharing yours. I definitely understand the pain of making "just" too much. I have often commiserated with friends (both while I was on assistance and not) that there should be a sliding scale. Sure, some people should get more than we should, but those who make just barely more than we do and don't qualify... they don't need ANY help? It's ridiculous!

And it's interesting to think of those who will be off assistance while you are still paying your debts. I wonder how that helps/hinders society in the long run. Unfortunately we have the "best" of both worlds because we still have lots of debt - in the form of school loans - even when we will no longer qualify for any assistance.

I am sorry for your frustration, for the way the system is so broken, especially for teachers it seems.

Mike Johnson said...

I find myself generally disgusted with the cashiers and managers at grocery stores when I use my WIC checks. It is obvious as soon as I hand them the check, their faces grimace and they treat me as a substandard citizen. And almost every time I make a WIC purchase they rung it up wrong or there is some disconnect with their system and what the pamphlet says I can buy and I have to argue with them and try and convince the manager that I am just trying to get what is on the list.
You made a comment "we are required by law to have continuing education degrees on our own dime to even keep our job- I can't think of any other industry that requires that without paying for it, or at least subsidizing it"--I'm not sure about the western medicine doctors but the natural medicine practitioners also have to do this and it is entirely on our own dime, it amounts to close to a thousand a year. And just cause Mike is in the business of helping people get better (acupuncture) it doesn't mean we have any money, it is HARD to build a practice and taxes on the self employed are VERY high and all the schooling required- the min loan payments every month at 1500 dollars...and if you are good at your job and people get better, then they stop coming to see you and you have to find new clients constantly and Obama Care has really screwed with how insurance pays and they find any excuse not to pay what is billed in any amount.
-Kim (Oneder)