Reflections of a Former Welfare Recipient
I HAVE BEEN TRYING TO OUT-SWIM POVERTY ALL OF MY LIFE. Sometimes I'm lucky and a forceful wave propels me forward, but that wave produces a powerful undertow, which drags me back into the depths of poverty once again. It becomes a case of "the abeader I go, the behinder I get!" I've been swimming a long time, but the shore seems no closer. I'm getting tired and I am scared because I know exhaustion could cause me to drown.
Many people consider me a welfare success story. But if I am, it is in spite of welfare, not because of it. The success I have had is due in large part to the fact that my mother lives with me. She does most of the cooking and housework and is there when my daughter arrives home from school or is sick -- in effect, I have a "wife." The other major reason I have achieved some success is that I was able to obtain a college degree. I had to constantly fight the Welfare Department to earn my degree while continuing to receive benefits. I was determined to be in a position where I could have a chance to become self-sufficient when I rejoined the workforce.
In 1984, I was offered a professional staff position at the university I had attended. In addition to my degree, I had more than 15 years of previous office experience in positions ranging from file clerk to secretary to administrative assistant, but my degree enabled me to earn a breadwinner's wage. The reality is that while I was fortunate enough to find employment immediately upon graduation, I still had to rely heavily upon the organizing and networking skills I had developed while surviving on welfare.
Another reality is that I had much less time for myself and my daughter Lisa. Too much of our "quality" time has been spent coaxing her to get ready for school, church, Girl Scouts, or bed. It's easier