Don’t assume “those people” aren’t trying.
Don’t assume they are lazy.
Don’t assume that life is easier for them.
Just because you may know people who are taking advantage (or know someone that knows someone) that does not mean there aren’t ten times that many people just struggling to survive. I’m sure every time I swiped my food stamp card with the baby on my hip people looked at me as just another single mom with no baby daddy present, lazy and milking the system because how DARE I not have a job…
I used to be one of “those people”. Life was hard for me then. I was immensely grateful for the assistance I received as an emancipated minor teen mom with a little baby trying to finish high school and then going to college as a single mom. I was even more grateful when I had a nervous breakdown from the pressure and couldn’t work for over a year. It got so bad I was unable to leave the house most of the time unless it was to go to the grocery store with my mother, in her nice car.
I sure was grateful for the help then.
I spent Hannah’s toddler years living in a three room apartment without heat or a stove, just barely surviving on $450 a month when my rent was $400 a month. I couldn’t even keep the electric on all the time. I got $180 a month to feed us and my apartment was not equipped with a stove. Microwave everything plus not knowing how to cook (because you were never taught) usually means boxed things. Cheap and processed foods filled my cart. The only luxuries we had came in food form: a bag of chips or carton of ice cream, because I didn’t have disposable income to get my kid a toy or a book. I’m sure there were noses turned up when I went through the checkout. I never noticed. I was too busy trying to keep Hannah quiet so I didn’t have THAT KID in the store. You know, the one without a coat, probably in pajamas that was overtired and hungry (because we could only shop when my mom was done with work), the one that people will look at and cluck their tongues at her harried, short-tempered mother, as they whisper under their breath and think “my child would never behave like that”.
I wouldn’t say we had a cushy life living on welfare. It was damn cold. We qualified for heating assistance but the furnace was condemned. Ever had to survive a New England winter without heat and cracked windows? I had a tiny space heater that I would move from room to room that took the worst of the bite from the air. Except when it tripped the fuse box, which was unreachable from my apartment. Then we sat in the dark until morning, because my anxiety was so bad I couldn’t knock on my neighbor’s door. The roof leaked, and I would cry every time it rained. Rain meant drip drip drip into a bucket beside the bed, and wet carpet after splash splash splash goes the water droplet as it hit the bucket and splashed out.
Laundry was iffy. When I couldn’t go to my mom’s I learned how to wash clothes in my tub. Christmas didn’t happen in our house, we were so lucky that family would take us in because I could not afford a tree or presents or clothes- I sometimes could not even provide necessities like soap, diapers, and toilet paper. We certainly did not have a television or a car or a computer.
But I DID have a phone because my mother paid for a cell phone for me. I sometimes painted my nails myself. I cut my own hair and Hannah’s too.
I’m lucky I got out of there. I’m lucky I went back to school, and got a job there too. I’m so glad that I moved in with my cousin and got out of that apartment. That I met James and we struggled together until we finally made it to where we are now: Still living paycheck to paycheck, still without a safety net or cushion but at least we can do it ourselves. Most of the people who receive assistance WANT to be where we are.
That image of the welfare queen holding a cigarette with her perfectly manicured fingernails while talking on her fancy phone? Not everyone is living the high life or lazy or taking advantage of the system and it makes me ill to be painted with that brush.