i am the 47%

by Suzannah Paul

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“Are you in school?” she probed, stirring her tea as I set a slice of coconut cream pie before her. She’d sent the first piece back, running me ragged with demands I hustled to meet with a smile.

“No, I graduated a few years back.”

She asked from where, and I told her, but her eyes flashed a smirk. “You might not want to tell them you work here. They might revoke your diploma.”

She left a tip that better matched her icy slight than my service–or her pearls.

***

I served tables and steamed lattes for two years before it became apparent that there might not be A Real Job for me in this town at all. Should we move up our vague baby plans a bit? For what were we waiting anyway, me to brew another thousand pots of coffee?

My sister was visiting. She grabbed glasses from the cupboard, and Jim poured the Guinness.

“None for me.”

“Just a little?” I shook my head, not feeling their festive mood. “But it’s Saint Patrick’s Day!”

“I might be pregnant, OKAY?” I barked, louder than intended. Their jaws dropped in tandem and eyes bugged cartoon-wide. A few beats of shocked silence passed, and they burst wide smiles and congratulatory hugs.

I felt sick, but not with the pregnancy. How were we going to afford this baby? Jim’s ministry job provided housing and a most modest salary. Being broke without kids was one thing; you’re supposed to be poor in your twenties, right? It’s part of the lore of growing up and coming into your own.

But feeding my kids government cheese? That never was part of the plan.

***

The next day the stick read positive, and the housing authority called about a job I’d applied for months before. If that was proof of God’s sense of humor, it felt like the joke was on me.

I accepted a job with the homeless assistance program, encountering the kind of poverty and housing insecurity that generally flies under the radar. I documented dire straits in pay stubs and eviction notices. The work was good, and I liked the people, but my heart hurt for how hard they labored and what little it guaranteed.

My due date imminent, I couldn’t imagine coming back to work in six short weeks. Staying on part-time wasn’t an option, and we didn’t have anyone to help with childcare, so I gave my notice. We’d figure it out somehow.

***

As it turned out, government cheese is Helluva Good. We ate it for four and half years, and I really did see it as part of God’s provision for our family. Uncle Sam’s chick peas floated us through the lean seasons, which lasted from autumn until tax time.

Sitting on the other side of the desk to turn over our pay stubs was humbling, like nearly every check-out experience at the grocery store.

“MANAGEMENT TO REGISTER FOUR FOR A PROBLEM WITH A WIC CHECK. PROBLEM WITH A WIC CHECK, REGISTER FOUR.”

I learned to shop the out-of-town supermarket, to not dress Too Nice, and to divide my groceries meticulously, with a babe in the sling and a toddler in the cart.

First check & transaction: milk, juice

Second check & transaction: cereal, peanut butter, cheese, bread

Third/(Fourth) check & transaction(s): produce. Make it match $6 (or less); any overage requires a fourth transaction independent of the final one.

Final transaction: our own groceries. More fruits and veggies, turkey for sandwiches, cheese or possibly fish from deli clearance, pasta, almonds [too much?], ice cream [it's on sale], frozen pizza [I have a coupon]. I smile apologetically at the customers behind me, wondering if they’re frustrated at the length of this process, or is their disdain toward My Kind in general?

***

I missed my reauthorization last fall and discovered our larder a little fuller. Maybe we could weather this lean season without WIC’s cushion.

My education and growing up were solidly middle class, and in many ways, we’re just wayfarers on this strange (mis)adventure in living beneath the poverty line. We could, most likely, get better paying jobs. Our paychecks are modest, but our housing is secure. Our families could (and have) aided us in a pinch, another decidedly middle class privilege. Downward mobility and ministry were our own choice, and I won’t pretend to exist in the same boat as my former clients, even if our tax returns appear similar.

I’m not so bold. I didn’t write this until I could put it in the past tense. I worried what you’d think, that our finances, spending habits, and private decisions would be up for public review. (That’s how this works, right?)

How much do you think her boots cost?

She has an Instagram account, you know.

If she doesn’t like being “low-income,” she could always, I dunno, WORK.

We’re several months out from receiving WIC benefits and doing okay. More than okay: our needs are met and some wants, too, like signing up our little ones for tumbling at the Y.

Despite all that, we’re still the 47%, those people (like teachers at Christian schools, disabled veterans, and your grandma, for goodness sake) who are basically The Worst for earning wages below the threshold of respectability.

Folks like me. Pleased to make your acquaintance.

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121 Responses to “i am the 47%”

  1. MangoTreeMama March 6, 2013 at 4:16 am #

    Thanks. From another 47%-er who’s learned that your children must be clean and neat but not *too* well dressed, that you must pick *just* the right outfit for grocery shopping (decent, but not too nice), an that you should shop at separate stores- this one for the things you’ll use help on, that one for the things like ice cream for a birthday or soda pop for a sick little one.
    The commentary of the (mostly affluent, Republican, etc. etc) “Church” on things like this are a large part of what’s driven my choice to leave Christianity to find Jesus.

    • Suzannah March 6, 2013 at 7:19 pm #

      there are a maze of unwritten rules to navigate, aren’t there? under the microscope is not a cozy place to be.

    • Angelia Sparrow March 11, 2013 at 8:12 pm #

      I found wearing my work uniform to the grocery store helped immensely. “Oh she’s just getting off work. How sad that she can’t make a living,” was much more the attitude when I did.

      Taking the kids was a big no, unless my husband went along.

      The one time I was confronted, I looked at the woman and said, “That $1 bottle of pop will keep me from falling asleep and driving into a bridge abutment on my way home from waiting tables all night. I work a 14 hour day at two jobs and I happen to think my life is worth that dollar.”

      She turned BRIGHT red.

    • Jim March 12, 2013 at 6:45 am #

      “The commentary of the “Church” on things like this are a large part of what’s driven my choice to leave Christianity to find Jesus.”

      I wish to shameless copy this comment. Please let me know if this is acceptable, because it’s excellent.

  2. Preston March 6, 2013 at 5:29 am #

    Stunning.

  3. Morgan March 6, 2013 at 6:11 am #

    I went through a lean time myself, Suzannah. I can’t even begin to say how much it rocked my self-worth. I felt ashamed to have to rely on others. Not a position I’d ever thought I’d be in because I’ve always worked hard, dammit. And, if you work hard in this country, the money comes, right? Unless it doesn’t. Of course, that time brought some great life lessons, such as: We are all connected, and when one of us needs help, I need to show up. My worth is in Him alone, not my status. Thanks for this beautiful Truth reminder.

    • Suzannah March 6, 2013 at 7:42 pm #

      (i feel like i should yell BOOTSTRAPS!)

      yeah, those lessons are hard and good and so very true. i appreciate your chiming in, morgan.

      • Alex March 17, 2013 at 11:26 pm #

        When rich people tell poor people to pull themselves up by their bootstraps, I tend to suspect that they really just want the poor people to bend over, the better to screw them.

  4. Kreine March 6, 2013 at 6:45 am #

    I was also raised (upper) middle class, and our family struggled through lean times as well. I learned to ignore dirty looks, rolled eyes, and whispers at the checkout counter as I wrangled two, then three, then four children.

    Thankfully, by the time number five was born, we were able to (just barely) make it without government assistance.

    The amount of cognitive dissonance we encountered from other Christians during that time was astounding. For instance, it was all right for our family (in ministry work) to utilize government assistance because it was how God was providing, but “those other people” were lazy leeches taking advantage of others’ tax dollars.

    I’m glad we experienced what we did, because it taught me every human is worthy of dignity, regardless of economic status.

    • Suzannah March 6, 2013 at 12:22 pm #

      wow, we’ve struggled our whole adult lives “making do” on ministry salaries, but i’ve never heard anyone defend unlivable ministry wages while shaming the “other” working poor. that’s jaw-dropping audacity!

      we could all stand to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes, huh? thanks for sharing part of your story here.

  5. Linda Stoll March 6, 2013 at 6:53 am #

    thank you, Suzannah. these are words many of us needed to hear. truth be told, more of our brothers and sisters than we care to realize are simply 1 or 2 paychecks away from making those same decisions …

    • Suzannah March 6, 2013 at 7:48 pm #

      yeah, that was a lot of what i dealt with at the housing authority. people were working and doing ok until their car broke down or there was a medical bill, which set off a downward spiral toward eviction. it’s a scary place to be.

  6. Amy March 6, 2013 at 7:03 am #

    Something you should understand though, so many of us know that “one person”, for me it’s a neighbor, who is constantly on the dole. My neighbors work, but are on food stamps for nearly $1000 most months. They have 5 kids which they couldn’t afford, they bought a large house on acreage and went on food stamps at about the same time… I like these neighbors, the wife is one of my best friends, but I can’t say it’s not hard sometimes, living in a small house, driving a 20-yr old car, being oh-so-careful with the money so I can afford to stay home with the kids while next door my neighbor’s poor financial decisions are being supported year after year by our taxes.

    It’s been good for me, I have learned that you don’t just grow out of the, “Why can’t I have that, she does” whine, you have to stomp on it repeatedly. But, while I try very hard not to get judgy, because other people’s finances are not my business, I can’t say watching their continuing lack of financial common sense and the state’s support of such has made me more sympathetic to public assistance overall.

    • Jenny March 6, 2013 at 7:36 am #

      The abuse part is a common arguement, but it’s the acception, not the rule.
      I would bet that your neighbors don’t necessarily *need* the FS, but it’s available to them so they’ve taken advantage. Maybe it’s lack of sense or maybe lack of conviction… Either way, there are people in real need of the help with food and one questionable neighbor and a bitter root shouldn’t mean the rest of us ought to feel inclined to hang our heads in shame when we see a person with your feelings looking down at us in the grocery aisle.
      I have to say that we all could probably be more careful about viewing people with children in disgust when we decide they “can’t afford them”. I didn’t have my children because I could afford them {I don’t think most people throughout history have}, and I wouldn’t have aborted them for lack of personal savings/income, because God tells me that He provides. He has provided: Where we don’t see food help/charity from local churches, we may have to find it elsewhere; from WIC or SNAP. It may not be my favorite thing to do, but it’s here for us right now, and it gives us nutrition – no fancy treats, no extras – but almost enough healthy food to get us through 4 weeks.
      I do see where you’re coming from Amy, I just want people to understand that judgement and poverty stereotypes are something that, in this day in age, should be countered with an open mind and heart every time. I hope that your gracious heart counters the judgements you feel toward people like us.

      • jimmie lee March 6, 2013 at 9:30 am #

        Do you think there is a difference between poverty as culture and falling on hard times?
        I think what amy is describing is poverty as culture, many people grow up with this as a way of life, thinking they are “owed” by the system. and many others find themselves in low paying jobs or unemployment or whatever their circumstance may be where they need to rely on community or other resources to help them make it. Like Suzannah is describing.
        Would love to hear some thoughts

        • Jenny March 6, 2013 at 10:15 am #

          Jimmie, I see that there is a difference. I see it within my own extended family. For my husband and I, an attitude of entitlement is off limits ~ we are owed nothing and are thankful every day that we are allowed any sort of assistance feeding our family while wages are low. On the other hand, a couple very close to us is in a mindset of entitlement and is bound by a spirit of poverty… It’s our job to pray for them and lead by example {trusting God & working to shed our own need for assistance}, not gripe and form prejudices based on their misguided attitude.

        • Suzannah March 6, 2013 at 12:43 pm #

          i do think it’s important to acknowledge that cultures of poverty don’t materialize from thin air–many are the direct result of institutionalized racism, unjust housing practices, etc.

          it’s complicated, and poverty can certainly be cyclical. bad luck and poor decisions factor in, too, but some of us have considerably more support to help us get ahead (and far more chances to recover if we fall). that’s what i was getting at when i said that my situation wasn’t the same as my clients–not that i am somehow better, but that i wasn’t struggling in a truly comparable way.

          i’m wary when the conversation turns to identifying who the deserving vs undeserving poor are, because it really is impossible to know anyone’s whole story from the outside looking in.

          • Heather March 6, 2013 at 2:48 pm #

            You have said this so well, my friend. Thank you. Your grace and kindness and the way you articulate it…yeah, so important. Thank you.

      • Amy March 6, 2013 at 11:24 am #

        “I would bet that your neighbors don’t necessarily *need* the FS, but it’s available to them so they’ve taken advantage. Maybe it’s lack of sense or maybe lack of conviction… Either way, there are people in real need of the help with food and one questionable neighbor and a bitter root shouldn’t mean the rest of us ought to feel inclined to hang our heads in shame when we see a person with your feelings looking down at us in the grocery aisle.”

        Dude, you’re not getting judgy on my neighbors for their perceived lack of need, are you? Kidding. I was not terribly clear (yet another reason I’m not a professional writer). That’s the question every time though, isn’t it? “How much does that person really need assistance?” Very few people think someone should starve if they can’t afford food, very few agree exactly on what constitutes need. There’s not a clear-cut line. Sure, if my neighbors sold their place and moved to a smaller one in town they could afford the house and food. Yes, their difficulties are due mostly to their overoptimistic financial decisions, and just a little to the logging downturn, does that make them less deserving? They are slowly pulling themselves out of the hole, even staying where they are, and will eventually be contributing taxpayers, does that make them more deserving? Suzannah implied that her economic situation was also by choice, but they were doing good work, so does that make it better or worse? Also, there are other ways to avoid having babies than abortion, please do not assume I condone that.

        Understand, I am not one of those people looking disapproving in line, my default attitude is generally “whatever, not my problem”, if I even notice how people are paying for their groceries, which rarely happens. I’m generally looking at the tabloid covers thinking, “Holy crap, people buy this stuff!” or explaining to my children why we don’t need every flavor of gum on the rack. What having this friend forced me to do (and ours is an every day, up in each other’s business friendship, not a get together for drinks once a week friendship, there’s no avoiding stuff) is face those thoughts that the people who pay attention to how you pay for groceries apparently have and deal with them knowing that if I didn’t, it would cost me a friendship. It was easier for me, I think, to see those thoughts of disapproval as a character flaw because they were directed at a friend, rather than at a stranger. I can honestly say now, I don’t care why a person is on whatever public assistance they are on, assuming they are not cheating to qualify, because I thought through all those questions and realized that there’s no clear place to draw a line and also, I’m glad my friend lives out here. However, for the people who only face those thoughts when they are at the grocery store and are directing them at a complete stranger, there’s less incentive there to really think them through. I was trying, in my last post, to offer up a little perspective on the other side. Those people are not automatically assholes (mostly, at least in other parts of their lives) any more than you are automatically a leech, those are just hard thoughts for anyone to avoid (admit it, there has been at least one moment when you looked at someone else and thought, “That guy does not deserve what he got”).

        • Jenny March 6, 2013 at 12:10 pm #

          Amy ~ I was in no way trying to judge your neighbors, I was just going off of what you said about them having the ability to buy land. I will be more careful next time.

          Never assumed you condone abortion, and I’m fully aware of birth control and how it does {and doesn’t} work… I’m also concious of the fact that many people for Faith or medical reasons do not/cannot use many {or any} forms of it even if they’re poor.

          As far as being deserving, yes, I’ve looked at people who I know have cheated and thought, “shit, they shouldn’t have gotten that grand prize”, but when it comes to food I feel differently… If there’s a chance a child could be undernourished w/out the supplement, I want that kid to be fed even if his/her parent is a mooch, feels entitled, or is just plain ignorant.

          And, I’m thankful that my children get to eat more apples, oranges and bananas than they would if we didn’t accept a small amount of aid. They deserve vitamins from fresh food just as {I believe} all children do, and we are blessed beyond measure to live somewhere this is possible! It is not taken for granted. It can’t be: When I was a kid I had to eat expired chips out of the Frito Lay dumpster… not as a snack, as a main source of nutrition. The FS program was basically non-existant in our state, and my mother couldn’t provide on her meager wage. I am thankful for what and how we are able to eat now and know it isn’t something I deserve or will have available forever. Thankfully, we know we won’t need it that long.

          One day, I know God will provide a source of wages for us that will make up the difference and feed the 6 of us w/out any charity/tax-payers $, and in the mean time, we’ll keep up the hard work and good stewardship that we know results in {continued} blessing.

          I apologize if I was offensive in any of my remarks to you. I feel passionatly about this topic, as you can see, but I never mean to be rude.

          God bless,

          Jenny

      • brenda March 7, 2013 at 2:37 am #

        where do you get that she is being unkind about “your kind”? she was having her own challenges with finances… when you add up all the folks that have their Mercedes parked out front in the no parking fire safety zone while they are fumbling around in their expensive purse with their expensive manicure looking for their special card loaded with taxpayers money it is a bit disheartening. trust me that we are not even middle class

        • Jenny March 7, 2013 at 7:13 am #

          Brenda, I’m not sure what you’re asking… but from your awful words all I can extract is the I’d rather be “my kind” than yours.

          Goodbye for good to this hateful and unfriendly “community”.

          • Suzannah March 7, 2013 at 7:53 am #

            jenny, i’ve appreciated your honesty here. you are not in an easy place at all, and i think you’ll find a lot of kindness and understanding in this thread. i hope you won’t let stereotyping from the few color your experience of DS overall.

        • Citizen Alan March 11, 2013 at 5:51 pm #

          “[W]hen you add up all the folks that have their Mercedes parked out front in the no parking fire safety zone while they are fumbling around in their expensive purse with their expensive manicure looking for their special card loaded with taxpayers money,” what number do you come with? I’m quite serious. How many times in your entire life have you personally witnessed someone with a Mercedes and a WIC card (as opposed to having heard about it first hand from friend whose sister’s cousin saw it with his own two eyes). Because from the number of times I’ve heard that story (and the embellishments get bigger every time), I honestly don’t think there are enough Mercedes in the world to accommodate every hypothetical moocher who hypothetically bought one with hypothetical taxpayer money.

          • brenda March 11, 2013 at 10:41 pm #

            I would not have mentioned a hearsay. and I was not trying to be hypercritical, I was thinking that the person I was replying about was NOT being unkind but stating some facts and even stating that she is/was one of the 47% as am I and probably lower in the income bracket than anyone else who has commented. Plus we had a 17 yr ministry for the homeless and fed and clothed as many as a couple hundred every week.

    • Preston March 6, 2013 at 7:39 am #

      Maybe what Suzannah is helping us remember is that no matter how much we see, how much we think we know, it’s quite possible that we don’t have the whole story. We don’t know what happens behind closed doors. We don’t know the context people have come out of, are in, are fleeing. I get the wanting justice and therefore wanting to have it look a certain way, but I have had too many friends who may look like they are irresponsible, but they are actually still doing not just their best, but their faithful best. I think coveting is strange, quiet, secret, and I think it’s commanded against for a reason: God is reminding us that all we can be responsible for is ourselves. To want what others have or to want to control them and their actions is a sign that we have forgotten how squandering we can be ourselves, how perhaps across the street, there is someone looking at us thinking, “I would make better decisions than them.” Maybe this is a small way of breaking this cycle of resentment, a cycle that seems without mercy, without God.

      • Jenny March 6, 2013 at 10:17 am #

        This is it exactly! Thank you for your wisdom and clarity, Preston!

      • Suzannah March 7, 2013 at 12:04 pm #

        “We don’t know the context people have come out of, are in, are fleeing.” what a good and gentle reminder. thanks, preston.

      • Original Lee March 12, 2013 at 12:55 pm #

        Beautifully said. The recent financial crisis should be making us more charitable in our heads and hearts when encountering others, but unfortunately the climate of fear is fanning resentment in many. Appearances can be deceiving.

        We have many people coming into our food bank driving expensive cars. One woman who was clearly new to the food bank experience came in dressed to the nines, her Mercedes parked just outside the door, and when I gently took her through the ropes, burst into tears and sobbed out her story.

        She was dressed expensively because she had been an upper-level manager before her company went bankrupt and folded, and these were the clothes she had available to wear to job interviews. Her Mercedes was paid for and several years old, and with many others in our community in the same situation, who would buy an expensive used car? She was stuck with it. Who would she sell her power suits to? Donating them and taking the tax deduction wouldn’t help her buy more “appropriate” clothing. She and her husband had divorced several years before, she was in her fifties, she had only herself to rely on, and she had managed to last almost two jobless years before reluctantly admitting she was going to need help.

        Another woman, also expensively dressed, had been on welfare and food stamps for a very long time. She had gotten her interview suit from Suited for Change, but she felt she needed a sign on her back “Brought to you by the charity of others” if she made the mistake of stopping at her regular grocery store on her way home from applying for jobs.

        Because of my work at the food bank, I try very hard not to judge, but it is difficult when I hear a lot of unkind conversation around me or on TV or on the radio. Apparently poor people don’t ever deserve to have anything nice, ever.

        BTW, two interesting experiments I have done with our youth group: 1) prepare a nutritious dinner for four people on a food stamp budget (the nutritious part is so the kids whose families on food stamps are not singled out); and 2) using ONLY the Wal-Mart website and a $1500 budget divided into 3 pieces, buy the essentials for a family of four from the Family Crisis Center who are moving into a one-bedroom apartment (the three pieces is to simulate three months of aid). You’d be amazed.

  7. alece March 6, 2013 at 7:36 am #

    Thank you for being so brave…

  8. Jenny March 6, 2013 at 7:38 am #

    Suzannah this is very relatable. Thank you for being brave enough to share it ~ I never was.

  9. Gary Ware March 6, 2013 at 7:43 am #

    Well before my 67th birthday, I learned we humans are a strange lot. I and my family have been there and suffered the emotions. The only difference I noticed attaining a measure of wealth, I can ignore the ones that made the comments and have compassions for those still struggling.
    God bless.

  10. Lindsay March 6, 2013 at 7:43 am #

    I’m trying to write a comment, but it’s taking me too long to think through what I want to say. Usually in such instances, I just leave the half-written comment up my computer all day, and then give up and shut it down before I leave work, never leaving a comment at all. As if y’all writers can feel my positive vibes through the internet. So, even if all I can get out right now is “thanks for this post”, there you go. Thanks! Maybe I’ll get it all into words later.

  11. Lynette Duquette March 6, 2013 at 7:47 am #

    I too struggle with finances. We make enough not to get help, but not enough to get ahead. Some people do think everyone on food stamps or WIC is lazy, and I know it’s not the case. But I disagree with abuse of the system being the exception and not the rule. Where I live, they just released a report that over 2 million was paid out in fraudulent welfare claims. It is also hard when I see the Gucci bags, nails, and Iphones on a person who pays for 400.00 in food stamps and then drives away in an Cadillac Escalade. This is an everyday occurrence here.

    • Suzannah March 6, 2013 at 2:14 pm #

      a person working full-time, 52 weeks a year (w/ zero vacation/sick days) at minimum wage earns $15,000 (before taxes). 15 grand doesn’t begin to cover most people’s (or families) most basic expenses, so i’m calling shenanigans on your escalade/abuse rule.

      for what it’s worth, WIC, food stamps/SNAP, and welfare/TANF are completely different programs with varying requirements and time limits.

      • Lynette Duquette March 6, 2013 at 2:47 pm #

        I worked in stores, saw this everyday. They come in with the husband/father, pay for it all on food stamps, and then he pulls out a wad of cash to pay for all the taxables. He may be out working but they aren’t married, so his income isn’t reported. I still see it every time I go shopping. Many are living w/ their boyfriends, which is against the rules. They don’t tell welfare and no one checks up on them. I have quite a few friends who work in grocery stores who can tell you the exact same thing.

        http://bostonherald.com//news_opinion/local_coverage/2012/06/report_welfare_cheats_cost_taxpayers_28m

        • Lynette Duquette March 6, 2013 at 2:48 pm #

          in the first line it should say boyfriend/father.

        • Suzannah March 6, 2013 at 3:19 pm #

          you are still confusing welfare with food stamps. a household is whoever lives and eats together, married or not. you can’t possibly know if your customers were reporting all income, but you would have been welcome to file a fraud report if you thought it warranted.

          regardless, anecdotal evidence doesn’t prove anything about abuse as a “rule.”

    • brenda March 7, 2013 at 2:39 am #

      AMEN

  12. LoveFeast Table March 6, 2013 at 7:49 am #

    I have a feeling there are many who can relate to this story and how brave of you to open the door. The past few years for our family have been financially difficult and I’ve cried out for answers. But in my struggles God has pulled back my blinders, humbled me and put me on a stoop with my neighbor, commiserating with her in our similar place. I’m in the mud puddle with her, not above her or set apart and it made me open my eyes and heart to those around me who’ve struggled most of their lives. Thanks for sharing. ~K

    • Suzannah March 6, 2013 at 3:23 pm #

      hard times have a way of tuning our hearts to others’ hurts (if we let them). that “me, too” is invaluable. thanks for echoing it here:)

  13. Lori March 6, 2013 at 8:29 am #

    I cannot begin to thank you enough for this post. With tears I type this. We are in this boat. My husband and I are raising our grandchildren whom are 6 & 7 as our own. For the first few years we asked for no assistance or help financially because we were too proud. We emptied out our savings in legal fee’s and to make ends meet. I ran a day care at a high school so was able to bring them with me to work so we didn’t have that cost. Then that job ended and we didn’t qualify for daycare assistance. I took another job and the daycare costs ate up most of my check. This goes without saying that I have a neck and skull injury from a previous job so have constant pain and work restrictions. As our little’s got bigger, lifting them and the extra work flared my injury making it harder to work. I ended up having to quit my job.

    It didn’t take long before we were forced to apply for help. Humbling. Embarrassing. Going to the store and using the foodstamps is humiliating but I’m getting used to it. Check out clerks treat you differently when you are using food stamps. Anyways so now we live off of one income and little help from the state. I was already frugal before this but I am more so now. Our garden is bigger and grows every year. We rarely buy new clothes, shoes or whatever we need. We don’t go on vacations, dates or places that other families go. I make pretty much everything we eat from scratch. I stay home most of the time to conserve on gas. My husband and I have no medical insurance. But, we are happy. Our little’s are so healthy that other than a check up once a year at the doctor and 2 check ups at the dentist yearly they aren’t costing tax payers a whole lot of money in that way. We appreciate the help given to us and take all of this as a lesson from God. I have learned so much from being in this humbling position. I don’t see us as being poor even though our income says we are.

    I am finding that there are a whole lot of people like us out there. There are a lot of hard working hurting people that are doing the best that they can. And really there are a lot that don’t know how to budget, manage their resources and how to live within their means. I would do anything to be off assistance but right now it’s where we humbly are. I hate being judged. I hate being treated differently at the check out. We live in a small rural town and you know how people talk. This is not where we planned to be at this time in our lives but not for one minute would I give these little’s back or wish them gone from here. We are doing what we are suppose to do, even if that means asking for help.

    Thanks again for this post!

    • JessieLeigh March 6, 2013 at 12:06 pm #

      “We are doing what we are supposed to do, even if that means asking for help.”

      Beautifully said, Lori.

    • Suzannah March 6, 2013 at 8:32 pm #

      your sacrifices and love poured our for your grandchildren is a GIFT. everyone should know what it is to be loved so well.

      i have tears in my eyes. you have blessed my with your candor and faithfulness. i’m praying healing, provision, and great shalom over you and your family, lori. thank you for trusting us with part of your story.

  14. the life artist March 6, 2013 at 8:41 am #

    We’ve been there too, Suzannah . . . You captured and articulated the feelings exactly, courageous one.

  15. Heather Kulaga March 6, 2013 at 9:01 am #

    We moved to the country, bought a big house with land, and my husband promptly lost his job. For six weeks my four children received free lunch at school, and although I didn’t get the government cheese, I received other things, and I knew welfare was the next option. To the person grumpy about her neighbor’s perceived abuses — you really never know the full story. We were stuck in the big house after the bottom dropped out of the market. No way to sell, and even with a smaller house, we would not be ahead. We haven’t fully recovered, even though my husband has a good job, we still qualify for reduced hot lunch at school. Our cars have 200,000 plus miles on them, I shop at Goodwill, we don’t eat out, we squeeze together the monthly tuition for my oldest son’s college. And yet our house is luxuriously large and beautiful. It just costs so much to maintain that our living expenses are scraped together week by week. Some of my friends live in a trailer park, but have iphones and all the latest gadgets – things that my kids will never have while they live under my roof. I don’t judge them for making these choices – why should I? – how do I know their true circumstances? We made a choice to buy this large house, and I enjoy it and don’t complain about my other circumstances. I feel blessed. I surely hope my neighbors don’t think I’m snubbing them when I can’t contribute to a fundraiser or attend a purse party. Nobody ever knows the full details of anyone’s situation. Let’s not judge each other.

    • Suzannah March 6, 2013 at 3:29 pm #

      heather, i appreciate your chiming in here. between unemployment and the housing crisis, a lot of people are struggling, and assuming it looks any one way is a mistake.

      for what it’s worth, i don’t think you’re missing out on anything at those purse parties;)

      • Heather Kulaga March 6, 2013 at 8:29 pm #

        :)

  16. Jamie Wright Bagley March 6, 2013 at 9:18 am #

    I’m so glad you shared this story. I am a bit sorry you waited until it was a thing of the past but I understand that it feels shameful even though you did nothing wrong. (My husband and I had a similar “shaky” start.) But a lot, oh, a whole damn lot of people are still in this boat!
    There are a lot of unaddressed issues leading people to have to seek government assistance. We live in an imperfect world where the powerful exploit at ever turn and where people get broken in ways they don’t anticipate. It’s almost never a matter of being irresponsible. I mean, who do you know personally who would give up the dignity of being able to provide for their family? So there is no room for judgment and shaming.
    I am one of seven children, grown now. But as a child, people implied that my parents were not responsible to have that many children on a private school teacher’s salary. I used to wonder if I was the one who shouldn’t have existed since I had some health problems; would they have been better off without me? They would have been horrified to know I got that impression from others and reassured me that I had worth. It just goes to show that it is never, ever, ever appropriate to imply that parents are irresponsible to have a lot of children. You don’t know their story and you don’t know who might be listening!
    Anyway, back to topic, we live in low-income housing. And I have to say, I don’t know any neighbors who don’t work hard, sometimes multiple jobs, to make ends meet. Maybe the couch-warmers exist. Maybe? On (un)reality tv? I don’t know. In my sphere I see neighbors who maybe just need other loving neighbors (preaching to myself) to come up with real solutions. Let’s stop living in isolation and loving only ourselves and our careful budgets and start finding ways to make a difference in the lives of real people regardless of whether we feel like our government or taxes are screwing us over. When Jesus said “love your neighbor as yourself” there weren’t any qualifiers.
    Obviously you addressed a sensitive but much-needed topic. Thank you!

    • Suzannah March 6, 2013 at 3:34 pm #

      i love how you boiled this conversation down to loving our neighbors well. yes and amen.

  17. Chris March 6, 2013 at 9:36 am #

    This is a poignant piece for a lot of reasons. You’re right about the scrutinization of those with less means, the politics of deserving (which seems to imply that help is the sort of thing that no one deserves, everyone should be self sufficient, etc etc), and the stigma of using WIC checks. You illustrated this so very well.

    I have to admit that the big, “HUH!” moment came for me as I read that you and I both got jobs helping the homeless the day we found out we were pregnant. And I will also, most likely, need to quit mine due to lack of childcare (or at least childcare which is lower than my paycheck). What a coincidence! I will say that I’d never been so grateful for a job before, haha :)

    I’m glad to hear that you are writing this from the past tense as I am glad to hear you are not struggling with it now. I’m also glad that you wrote about it, because more people need to understand how toxic and often untrue the rhetoric surrounding those who use social services are.

    • Suzannah March 6, 2013 at 3:43 pm #

      what a strange connection! yeah, the connection between work and affordable child care is a related and important aspect of this conversation that i didn’t even touch on.

      blessings on your pregnancy and next steps:)

  18. Lori March 6, 2013 at 9:40 am #

    I was going about my morning and thinking about this post. I was thinking about the people that judge or look down people getting help. Really they are doing it out of ignorance. They likely have never been in the lifes circumstances of walking in the shoes of being in need. Many people have lived a life of privilege or never having a want or need not answered. Many have family that they can lean on during a tough time. But there are many that didn’t grow up in this way and/or don’t have family to lean on. The thing is we all need to keep in mind that we just get glimpses into the lives of others. We don’t know their whole story..like where they have come from or what they are dealing with behind the closed doors of their homes. Just because someone has some nice clothes and shoes on doesn’t mean anything as they could have gotten them from a second hand store or been given them as a gift. That poor family out to eat might have been given a gift certificate for the nice place to eat at. We assume way too much. While I might not approve of someone elses choices or spending habits it really is none of my business and I really don’t know their whole story.

    • Suzannah March 6, 2013 at 3:58 pm #

      exactly. our assumptions about people dehumanize, turning them into something Other.

  19. tara pohlkotte March 6, 2013 at 10:00 am #

    oh, mercy….Suzannah. this is brave, and beautiful. Never EVER for a second believe you need to wait to tell your story. There are so many people along side you {week to week we struggle and surplus as well}. Loving you no matter what. Thankyou for pulling the veil back so that we may see that every statistic has a beautiful face, an even bigger heart behind it.

    • Suzannah March 6, 2013 at 8:40 pm #

      sister, you have the gift of encouragement! thank you, friend.

  20. kelli woodford March 6, 2013 at 10:51 am #

    yup. i’m there, too. not past tense.

    honored to be part of the My Kind if it puts me in the same boat as you, friend.

    • Suzannah March 6, 2013 at 8:42 pm #

      i’ll ride that boat with you anywhere. thick and thin. <3

  21. Jessica March 6, 2013 at 11:17 am #

    I constantly worry that people will think we are irresponsible bums. I went from the gov’t buying our groceries to the blog buying them. Truthfully, it’s got the mark of God’s provision written all over it. But it’s easy to put on my ashamed glasses and just feel like a loser.

  22. Leslie March 6, 2013 at 11:17 am #

    Well said and brave. Thank you for sharing. I’ve been there. I only got WIC at a store where no one knew me and I didn’t shop there any other time. I remember worrying people would judge me because I had a nice new coat that my grandmother bought for me.

    • Suzannah March 6, 2013 at 8:54 pm #

      yeah, i remember going through the same process: “i bought this diaper bag on clearance when i had a decent job and no babies. i wonder what it *really* costs? would other people know? should i leave it in the car?? how will i juggle the kids and everything if i leave it in the car? woman! get your dang groceries already!”

  23. Jennifer Lundberg March 6, 2013 at 11:22 am #

    I grew up on free lunches at school. I wore the hand me downs and was given scholarships to attend church camps. My parents decided to be foster parents, feeling convicted to feed God’s sheep literally in our home. We were poor by choice but still poor.
    I have been very much in the middle class. I have been able to go to the store and buy as much cheese as my kids can eat. I put a treat or two in my cart without checking the prices. And I just wanted to let you know that when I was behind you in line using your WIC vouchers, I was reminded of my carefree shopping ways, of what I have been given. I tried to smile and let you know it is okay. I can wait. I can be patient. I am happy to know that our government is using some of our tax money to take care of others. Take your time and make sure you get what you and your family need and deserve.
    And now that my husband is no longer receiving a pay check, it is our turn to accept the help. As it is meant to be.

    • Suzannah March 6, 2013 at 9:01 pm #

      there have been kind souls like you along the way, and i am so grateful. it means the world.

      i’m so sorry about your husband’s job, jennifer. blessings and grace as you navigate your new normal. i pray that God–and his people–will supply all your needs.

  24. faith March 6, 2013 at 11:50 am #

    thank you for your courage to share! ive been there. wic and medicaid. it was humbling.

  25. Kevin Shoop March 6, 2013 at 11:50 am #

    Awesome story, Susannah. My partner currently works with 55+ folks who need permanent housing. He’s seen so many people who have worked hard all their lives. Yes, there are those few who “take advantage” of the system. There are even more with substance abuse and mental health issues. But the majority are those who have worked hard all their lives and have fallen on hard times: a medical condition that bankrupts them, estrangement from other family, investments gone horribly wrong, etc. Thank you for sharing your story and helping to take the “Other” out of “the 47%”!!

    • Suzannah March 6, 2013 at 9:06 pm #

      there are so many layers and stories, aren’t there? i care so much about affordable housing, but it’s not an easy problem to solve. i’m glad for folks in the trenches like your partner helping folks navigate difficult circumstances.

  26. HopefulLeigh March 6, 2013 at 12:25 pm #

    Grateful for your voice, friend. We never know someone’s full story. It’s entirely too easy to make flip judgments. Thank you for reminding us all to see the other side of the story.

  27. Susie Klein March 6, 2013 at 12:25 pm #

    Beautiful post that I find myself identifying with very much. Empty-Nestors, we lost our ministry jobs and had to go on Food Stamps and County Health Assistance this last year. I struggled in my car before entering the health clinic which was surrounded by non-english speaking migrant workers. I felt like Mrs Thurston Howell III from Gilligan’s Island. (Probably before your time.)
    Using food stamps was very embarrassing but they saved us from losing our home. That little extra income allowed us to pay our bills.
    I will never again pre-judge people “on the dole”. They are all of us and could be any of us with one job loss.

  28. karen March 6, 2013 at 12:28 pm #

    Beautiful story here, Susannah. Thankful for your voice making way and giving value to those who work and try and receive help in shame. Isn’t that very help known by another name or two? Mercy, charity, service, hope and grace. These are not bad words, but words of life and redemption. You have made that plain as day to me. Thank you.

  29. Katie Gibson March 6, 2013 at 12:28 pm #

    So brave, Suzannah. Thank you for this post.

  30. Sarah Askins: Poet-Writer March 6, 2013 at 12:30 pm #

    Oh this was so close to my story right out of college. Christian school teacher and no living wages since I had no children no federal assistance either. I don’t usually talk or write about the experience because it is still too painful, but I am thankful for you bravery.

  31. Gianna March 6, 2013 at 12:34 pm #

    No matter who we are, we perceive the world through our circumstances. Rich has a different perspective than poor. Both can feel like they know more than the other.
    Both are wrong.
    They know different things.
    It really bothers me when people say they don’t judge.
    Yes, they are. I am. It’s just the way it is. It would be so much better to ask questions and try to understand. Seek to learn and don’t avoid judging.
    And while you are doing that, get out of your self pity that they have better stuff because they are one food stamps.
    That is an unnecessary pity party that is not pleasing to God.

  32. Kimberly Moore March 6, 2013 at 1:03 pm #

    It’s a sad day when being honest is being brave. But you are. Our world needs more of you, those who can communicate beautifully, honestly and eloquently. Thank you.

  33. Lindsay March 6, 2013 at 1:21 pm #

    Yes, so brave. Thank you for sharing. We hit our own financially difficult time late last year, and for me, the shame was almost unbearable. I felt like such a failure, so irresponsible. The more we can talk about these things, the more I pray we see all the different reasons why people end up in this place, and how we can support and come alongside them. It’s a terrifying circumstance to endure alone.

    • Suzannah March 6, 2013 at 7:08 pm #

      i am in tears reading this, lindsay. thank you for revealing part of your struggle here. i’m praying peace and provision over your family right now.

  34. Brenna D (@BrennaJD) March 6, 2013 at 4:22 pm #

    Suzannah, thank you for your story. Thank you for sharing it and trusting it with us.

    I am so encouraged to see most of the comments have been supportive. I want to address, in general, the idea that the majority of people on some form of public assistance are abusing the system.

    Are there some people who present in a way that indicates they are abusing the system? yes. But what we see is just a snippet, a moment in time. Maybe that boyfriend with the wad of cash beats his girlfriend when they get home. Maybe he only is around once in a while. Maybe he just got a job and wants to treat his family from the first paycheck. We just don’t know.

    I live in Chicago and I see both. And I realized that when I would get upset at what I perceived as a situation of someone “abusing the system” the only thing that I really knew was that I had a heart issue – I didn’t know their facts (and frankly, it’s not my business).

    I decided long ago I have two choices. I can look at all these situations with critical eyes as if it is my job to decide on the veracity of their need. Or I can just love people like Jesus loves me.

    I only have so many hours in the day. I don’t want to waste them always angry and frustrated. I’d rather spend them loving. I can look with a critical eye at clothes, cars, and the contents of a cart, or I can look in the eyes of the little girl standing next to the cart and give her a genuine smile. I can get impatient when it takes a while to ring up an order or I can chat with the fellow mom buying her kids food.

    I can’t do both things. So I’ll choose to love my neighbors, the people in my community. End of story.

    • Suzannah March 6, 2013 at 6:47 pm #

      “i can’t do both. so i’ll choose to love my neighbors.” you are my favorite. thank you for your gracious, loving, merciful heart.

  35. Louisa March 6, 2013 at 4:27 pm #

    When couples are working full-time and still qualify for assistance programs, I wonder how our nation will eventually grapple with this.

    These folks aren’t lazy; they’re working as hard as they possibly can. Often adequate housing, medical care and insurance along with providing nutritious food is just beyond their reach.

    Do we, as a nation, apply pressure to Corporate America to pay a living wage with all it entails or do we provide assistance programs which some of us will continue to snicker about behind closed doors?

    • Suzannah March 6, 2013 at 6:54 pm #

      YES. real, livable wages are SO important, and when the media talks about job creation and indexes, i always want to know, what kinds of jobs? ones at quiznos? ones with benefits and 401Ks? i think i know the answer.

      there’s a myth as potent as the american dream that only kids work low wage jobs. who do people think bags our groceries, tags our sweaters, cares for our kids and our elderly, and serves our food? how dumb are we really gonna pretend to play about this?

      /rant. let’s march;)

  36. Amy March 6, 2013 at 5:11 pm #

    THANK YOU FOR WRITING THIS. We went on WIC a few months ago, and the humbling checkout process at the grocery store really stings. I have a lot of confusion and frustration at the fact that my husband works very hard as a full-time teacher in a private Christian school, and I work hard to fit a part-time job working for a church plant around being a stay-at-home mom, and yet we cannot afford to make ends meet without help from the government and our families. Shouldn’t a Christian school be paying a living wage? But then again, we have made mistakes and weren’t always the best stewards of our money during times when we had more of it, so some of the blame belongs with us.

    I don’t really have a point except to let you know that it helps my heart to hear from someone who knows what we are going through. And to add my “Amen”to those who have pointed out that we should be very careful not to judge others without having the full story.

    • Suzannah March 6, 2013 at 7:05 pm #

      it’s kind of the dirty secret of ministry, isn’t it? simplicity, contentment, and trusting God are fabulous things, but what if more ministries walked in faith by paying more livable wages…

      blessings to you, your family, and your ministry, amy. may we not grow weary and lose heart.

    • Shayna March 20, 2013 at 8:51 pm #

      Shouldn’t a Christian school be paying a living wage?

      You’d think, but no. I recently turned down a position teaching at my church’s school for just that reason. The salary they were offering, when broken down by hours, was less than minimum wage. The two part time jobs I work now don’t pay much, but at least they beat that.

      I think it boils down to being considered a ministry. The teachers seem to be older/semi-retired or previous SAHMs whose kids are now enrolled at the school. If we were comfortable financially I would have taken the job because I love the kids, but I couldn’t do it.

  37. Sarah Bessey March 6, 2013 at 7:04 pm #

    I feel like you need a standing ovation here.

  38. Laurie Matherne March 6, 2013 at 7:34 pm #

    I don’t know how to start: I love every word that you wrote. I applaud you while standing on a chair.

  39. Sarah Rosangela March 6, 2013 at 8:16 pm #

    Fist pump in solidarity. This rings so true to me. I don’t receive WIC, SNAP, or Cash Assistance (can we please stop calling it welfare?!) but I do use a subsidized medical program for both myself and my daughter. I come from a family of 1%ers, went to private honors university (my grades were questionable but we could pay in cash so I got in, but we can talk about white privilege a different day)and dress well because I am gifted lovely things. When practitioners or receptionists see my insurance card I almost always get an eye roll, a sigh, or a demeaning remark. What they don’t know is that in this economy I am considered overqualified for many of the jobs I apply for and therefore must take one without benefits, and that my daughter was born out of abuse. My story, like so many others, is terribly complex and so I use certain forms of assistance, while refraining from using others. When they inevitably learn the circumstances they always apologize for their behaviour, telling me that “I should have told them about ‘my situation’.” Apparently I deserve their pity, not their scorn.
    I give people this antidote because it details a common occurrence, the notion that recipients of aid must explain their life stories to taxpayers, doctors, cashiers, in order to justify their need. The need for assistance is almost always a symptom of a larger issue, whether it be racial inequality, sexual abuse, or any number of other things.
    Your piece sheds light on this issue, and to a demographic that would perhaps not otherwise get such an inside view. Thank you for your boldness.

    • Suzannah March 6, 2013 at 9:19 pm #

      this is so true, so eye-opening. there are so many implicit assumptions in these conversations/situations: that we “owe” our stories and justification, that strangers can perceive the complicated nature of other people’s hardship, that the “answers” are easy of obvious.

      thank you for honoring us with part of your story, sarah. blessings to you and your sweet girl.

    • Krista March 6, 2013 at 9:19 pm #

      Yes, this, thank you! We all have different stories, some by choice, some not. And the fact that anyone judges based on what little they can see… it’s so messed up! I just wrote about this last week, sharing our story of assistance.

  40. Ashleigh Baker March 6, 2013 at 8:32 pm #

    I’ve been trying to formulate a coherent comment all day, but I just keep remembering the day I first walked into that assistance office with my husband’s low-ranking military earnings report, my meager receipts from teaching piano lessons (because not only were we taught that “government help” was wrong, but also that a wife went against God’s order if she worked outside her home) and a heavy, heavy yoke of shame upon my shoulders.

    Applauding you for releasing that shame with your storytelling here, Suzannah.

    • Suzannah March 6, 2013 at 9:31 pm #

      i read (on facebook) that low-ranking military service wo/men with 8 years of service and under are part of that infamous 47%–but i wasn’t sure it was true.

      no one should wear that shame mantle, but for all your family sacrifices, you don’t have any business anywhere near those offices and stink-eyes. what a profound, unconscionable injustice. so much love to you and yours.

    • Brenna D (@BrennaJD) March 7, 2013 at 4:10 pm #

      A huge number of my friends are Navy, and posted in Navy housing, right on the refrigerator are the list of phone numbers they will need: Tricare, Hospitals, and the WIC Office. It’s a sad reality for most of my enlisted friends.

  41. Leanne Penny March 6, 2013 at 8:42 pm #

    My ministry husband with his Masters has had a pay cut this year so we applied for WIC and qualified. For a long time, and sometimes still, I felt like we were failures. Like we were doing something wrong somehow. But were debt free, don’t have many amenities… yet the cashiers always treat me like I’m trying to screw the system.

    I’ve been accused of fraud because my signature doesn’t look 100% like it did on the day I signed the original card. Last week one of the parents of my preschool kids caught me in line turning in one of my vouchers and I nearly cried. Oh the shame of free milk… which is currently more than $4.25 a gallon.

    I work my tail off from 5am writing, loving, snuggling and teaching and still there is the shame in my free box of chex and $6 of produce….

    • Suzannah March 7, 2013 at 8:56 am #

      yeah, people you know catching you in line at the grocery store is the real life version of those naked-in-school dreams. you’re doing your very best, and this season won’t last forever. no one would jump through all these hoops and social stigmas for an armful of groceries if we didn’t need the help. there’s no shame in that. <3

  42. Heatherly March 6, 2013 at 9:14 pm #

    The first time I went through the line with WIC checks, I went right before closing, hoping there would be next to no one in the store, knowing that it would take many transactions- and I had no idea what I was doing. Neither did the cashier. He allowed me to get items that weren’t approved {I accidentally grabbed organic peanut butter that was wrongly placed above the WIC label.} and when I grabbed the same items the next week, thinking they were “on the list,” I was berated by the cashier, who couldn’t believe I would have the audacity to try to buy “upper class” food on “her dime.” {It was my dime too, btw. I was working and paying taxes, but hubs was laid off and no one had enough work- even at the minimum wage.} I cried all the way home- ashamed, and so very grateful for a friend that had already walked the “WIC road” and was able to speak truth to me.

    We’re not in that season now, but I am grateful for the experience {NOW} and the compassion it has given me for my fellow moms.

    Thank you for sharing your experience, ‘zan.

    • Suzannah March 10, 2013 at 9:04 am #

      oh, i can feel the flush of shame that must have colored your cheeks! the irony is that that cashier was probably struggling, too…maybe why s/he was so ugly to you? sucks the way we throw each other under the bus when we’re more alike than we know, just caring for our families the best we can.

      miss you, lady:)

  43. Krista March 6, 2013 at 9:16 pm #

    I just happened to see this while reading another post I followed through facebook. I seriously just wrote my take on this last week. And we are still on assistance so it was more than humbling to “let it all hang out” especially considering we just took a cruise at Christmas (which we did not pay for) and a few other things.
    I wonder if we all would stand up and share our stories instead of being ashamed (of what?) maybe the stereotypes would start to crumble… maybe.
    I did the bills tonight. By not doing ANYTHING we didn’t absolutely have to this month and by my getting a blog sponsor we actually have come out even this month, not having to dip into our savings(tax return) at all. It’s a minor miracle.
    Here are my thoughts: http://www.welcometomarriedlife.com/2013/02/poor-by-profession.html
    And in case you wonder, the 4th baby was not exactly planned, God surprised us with 2 at a time!

    • Suzannah March 10, 2013 at 8:57 am #

      oh, that was hard and good to read. yes, let us tell our stories. may shame flee and compassion grow in the light of honesty. blessings to you and your sweet family:)

  44. Joni March 6, 2013 at 10:13 pm #

    Life in the 47% is definitely humbling. It’s hard sometimes not to be defensive when others make those snarky comments just loud enough to pierce.

    At this time of life most of my friends are taking trips, talking leisure and retirement with benefits. My husband and I are spiraling down after years of surgeries, medical bills, home health nursing, medications and an illness that we are learning is never going to heal. He has done his best to work, but has finally come to the end of employment.

    We had been below the poverty level before with my injury and 2 small children. Then a miracle job for my husband brought us slowly up and out. This time is almost more painful. I’m just so tired.

    • Suzannah March 10, 2013 at 8:46 am #

      oh joni, i’m so sorry to hear how hard it’s been for your family. medical problems and expenses can be truly devastating. rejoicing for his miracle job and praying healing and deep shalom over your family this day. may you rest well this sabbath.

  45. Leah Colbeck March 6, 2013 at 11:01 pm #

    Thank you for sharing this Suzannah. As often as I think there are differences between Canadian/American Christianity, one thing they too often have in common is negative stereotypes associated with low-income/poverty. It takes getting to know and love others to break these stereotypes down (even though it really shouldn’t if we are following Jesus’ words on matters of economics and aid.)

  46. Cassie Chang March 7, 2013 at 3:29 am #

    Thank you for giving voice to those so often overlooked, caricatured and ridiculed. Thank you for using such graceful writing to remind us to have more humility when interacting with those around us. Bravo, Suzannah.

  47. Mihee Kim-Kort March 7, 2013 at 11:03 am #

    What an honest glimpse into life so many of us are clueless about even though we (meaning, I) try so hard to advocate for people marginalized for economics. Thank you for this.

  48. dotsdots March 7, 2013 at 7:35 pm #

    Loved how you told your story. My husband and I and our youngest son are in the same position now, too. And yet we’re still who we really are, not just a label that someone gives us who hasn’t had to struggle (yet)themselves. My husband lost his job during “The Great Recession” and decided to retire early. Due to budget cuts in AZ, our severely disabled son no longer qualified for services there. We moved him to Oregon where his brother and sister live. This has worked out well for him as he now has medical care and staff to help him with his daily living. However, it took longer than the 3 months for family leave to get him situated, so I lost my job in Arizona as well. All three of us are now on Social Security and are definitely in the 47%. Yet my husband and I worked all our lives, were middle class, and cared for our son ourselves at home for many years. The Lord has been faithful to provide. The real moral of the story is “Judge not, lest ye be judged”. I try not to worry about those who judge me and just pray for them, as “they know not what they do”. All of us have value as human beings and especially as members of the body of Christ, whether we’re poor, old, and disabled or whether we’re young and rich. Jesus loves all of us the same. But sometimes it does hurt. I personally have to spend a lot of time working on forgiveness.

    • Suzannah March 10, 2013 at 8:39 am #

      your circumstances may be humble, but i’m encouraged by how your heart is, too. thanks for trusting us with part of your story. blessings to you and your son.

  49. Kirsten March 8, 2013 at 12:50 pm #

    I sympathize with your story, as we, too had a rough start. I do wish, however, that you would have not chosen to include the link at the end. I think bringing politics into such a sensitive situation demeans it. I love the writing here on deeper story, but I feel uncomfortable with the veiled political inclusions in several of the pieces. As a Libertarian, I consider myself socially moderate and fiscally conservative. I don’t think I should feel guilty for that and your site sometimes makes me feel that way.

    I’m so happy that you and your family are doing well, financially. I think everyone deserves a hand-up and I pray that your situation becomes increasingly stable as time goes on. Thank you for sharing your heart!

    • Suzannah March 9, 2013 at 7:37 am #

      kirsten, i appreciate your support, but i admit, i find your comment perplexing. the link provides context for the title and my narrative. romney politicized my life (and half of america’s) when he made those dismissive comments not only about those who receive aid (including social security after a lifetime of labor) but also those receive back their own wages in the form of the Earned Income Tax Credit.

      i suspect that the point of the EITC is to put more money in the hands of the very people who are most likely to spend it, funneling it directly back into the economy. when low-wage workers (which sadly includes even military families) keep more of their paychecks (and are paid a livable wage), they are less likely to require assistance in the form of food stamps, WIC, etc. romney characterized my family as irresponsible victims and said expressly that it wasn’t his job to worry about low income people and workers. i’m not bringing politics into anything; i’m just telling my story.

      the dozens of writers here don’t subscribe to any one position on politics or anything else, but the vehicle of story does reveal, i believe, how very personal politics can be. this “sensitive situation” is my life, and i hope that telling my story is the very opposite of demeaning. this is a guilt free zone:)

      • Kirsten March 10, 2013 at 6:09 am #

        Thanks, Suzannah, for the reply. Sorry for the confusion.

        I think where my struggle lies is in the fact that I voted for Romney and I don’t think you’re the “worst”. I don’t consider you a victim or irresponsible. I remember waiting in the grocery line with my WIC checks and feeling very thankful (not too out of place because where we were living this was more normal than not).

        I understand that the link provides context – I just wish it had been implied not included.

        Please know that even though politically we differ, I applaud you for sharing your story and wish you the best :)

        • Suzannah March 10, 2013 at 8:21 am #

          ok, now we’re getting somewhere! i would never assume that about you (or the roughly 80% of my friends and family who vote to the right of me). i don’t stand behind many of the presidents actions, either.

          i appreciate your engaging here and would hope that you would continue to feel welcome. it’s boring (and detrimental) if we ever become an echo chamber. thanks so much, kirsten.

  50. Deidre March 8, 2013 at 3:31 pm #

    We qualify for state health insurance. My mother in law likes to give nice birthday presents. I’ve learned to put away my ipod and not wear my leather boots (both gifts)if I’m bringing my kids to the Dr. (and that’s just for the receptionists no one else knows my insurance) I can’t imagine the kind of judgment you’d probably undergo at a grocery store!

    • Suzannah March 10, 2013 at 8:26 am #

      it is sort of a dance, isn’t it? i’ve really appreciated hearing other people’s experiences in this thread, so thank you, deidre. i’m so glad you do have insurance, even if the circumstances aren’t ideal.

  51. Diana March 11, 2013 at 12:13 am #

    Suzannah, you continue to amaze me with your bravery and your incredible writing skills. Thank you for taking such a tender and sometimes contentious topic and making it real. You told your story – and look at how many others found the courage to tell theirs! This is a gift, my friend. Thank you.

  52. Edo March 11, 2013 at 5:57 pm #

    I remember when 47% surfaced the first time. It was a Tea Party thing, in response to the then-current Occupy tumblr “We are the 99%.” And I vaguely remember Mitt Romney bringing it up again.

    It came up again through links tonight, and my first thought was that it was a dead meme. Thank you, Suzannah, for writing this. For reminding me that it’s not a dead meme; that it’s not dead, and not a meme; that it is people, that it is you.

    And I need to ask your forgiveness, because I had forgotten. I have no excuse, and I am truly sorry.

  53. Amber March 18, 2013 at 12:14 am #

    My first year in seminary, I made a comment about being frustrated with the healthcare situation (It was 2008). A girl I didn’t know barked at me, asking me if I owned a car and a computer. Her assumption was that I was going to say yes. Because I was in graduate school, I obviously was privileged middle class and she wanted me to remember that I wasn’t a 3rd world victim. My response of “no, I don’t” and then explaining that I was from rural Appalachia left her without a response.
    I’ll be honest. I earned $5k last year. If I didn’t live rent-free, I would be homeless. My tiny pay goes to gas, some food, and my monthly medical expenses. I laugh at the creditors who threaten me. What are they going to take? My credit score is so horrific from student loans and hospital bills that I don’t care.
    I work hard at the few hours my job gives me. I’m holding tight because it has benefits. Anything that looks fun and frivolous in my life like a phone or a meal out is because of a gift – I’m very careful with my money.
    YET, because I am part of the 47% – I actually got back more than I put in because of my medical expenses – I get snide remarks. Regularly.

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