Ten years ago in August I made a decision that would change my life: the decision to attend college. At the time, I was a struggling single mother who after working a series of low-wage jobs, decided to apply for Chicago State University to get a taste of American Dream and become a member of the fabled middle-class. However, the road to economic prosperity has been a rough one for me and six years after graduating from college with honors, I am broke as hell and worse off financially than I was ten years ago with thousands of dollars in student loan debt to boot.
I actually fought the welfare system to get my degree. For most of the four years I spent in college, I battled with my case worker and her supervisor for the right to improve my human capital. She actually had the audacity to inform me that because I had previous work experience, they would not allow me, a grown ass woman to attend a four-year college. The most I could do was a two-year program, majoring in medical assisting or obtaining some more secretarial skills.
I paid her no heed and continued my education, eventually writing a letter to the Springfield office of the Department of Human Services here in Illinois to complain of her unprofessionalism and lack of empathy and won that battle. No one in shoe leather would ever be able to tell me what to do so I continued to strive and thrive, always believing once I had that diploma, my days with poverty would be over. How was I to know that in less than two years after graduating from college, the economy would collapse and having a Bachelor’s degree with a high grade point average would not mean shit in the new economic realities of living in America?
I probably sound a tad bit bitter but at this point, I do not care. I am not going to lie: I am quite pissed off. Other than a low-wage job (where I was worked like a dog) I had earlier this year which I was forced to quit due folks being hostile, I have not had a full-time job in five years. Five fucking years and the clock is ticking for me due to my age. Every day I sit out of the workforce, the harder it will be for me to find a job because of the stigma that is currently swirling in our society: unemployed folks are a bunch of deadbeat, lazy, trifling individuals looking for a handout.
I am mainly pissed because American society told women like me, single mothers that if we got off welfare, went to school, got degrees, worked at companies that treated us like crap (but didn’t complain!) and lived a clean existence despite of our so-called “mistakes” (our children), we would be admitted to the American dream. Not! For me and millions of other women in my position, the American Dream has become an illusion that is fading on a daily basis and I have come to the conclusion that finding employment in the traditional 9 to 5 with benefits might not be an option for me anymore. I have also come to the conclusion that although American society does not have an actual caste system, climbing out of poverty is one of the hardest jobs in the world, Horatio Alger stories be damned. But I refuse to give up. I just need to rant and rave a little bit and hell, I am human.