Working for Pennies- The Harsh Realities of Being a Welfare Recipient

One of the biggest misconceptions in American culture is that welfare recipients are living large at the taxpayer’s expense, receiving thousands of dollars per month while driving Cadillacs and other expensive cars. This myth is so not true and how do I know? Because for the past two months, I have been on welfare and let me be the one to tell you: being on public assistance sucks.

August 3, 2011 will be a day in infamy I will never forget because it was on that date that I received my last unemployment check and officially became one of the 99ers, a term for unemployed people in the United States, who have exhausted all of their unemployment benefits, including all unemployment extensions. After applying for over two thousand jobs, I found myself in the position of having to apply for Public Aid or be faced with disconnection notices and phone calls from bill collectors who cannot speak English. If someone had asked me five years ago would I be in this position, back on welfare, I would have laughed because I went back to school and received a Bachelor’s degree and people who have degrees are supposed to be protected from economic turmoil. I graduated five years ago from Roosevelt University with a Bachelor’s degree in Sociology and a 3.6 grade point average and I am proud of myself for that accomplishment. I know that some folks turn their noses up at people who pursue a liberal arts degree but I learned valuable critical thinking skills, how to analyze and solve problems in a creative manner, and most importantly about social stratification and inequality and I have no regrets. I also have over ten years of transferable experience in the administrative/clerical field and an ability to work with all types, fools and all. However, even with all those wonderful qualities, I cannot find a job to save my life.

When I made the decision to apply for welfare, I tried to keep positive about my situation. Millions of Americans are suffering from either being unemployed or underemployed so at least I was not alone in my troubles. But I cannot lie: Feelings of self-loathing and inadequacy run through my veins on a daily basis and a rage is building in me. A rage against a society that tells individuals that a college degree is the path to a economic prosperity, but does not disclose how centuries of social inequality have kept and will continue to keep the best and brightest out of the workforce. A rage against rich, clueless politicians who believe people that receive unemployment and welfare benefits are sitting on their butts swigging alcohol and smoking dope. A rage against myself for waiting so long to get my life together and having to deal with the consequences of perhaps being considered passé in the workforce.

I was a teenage mother who did not get my GED until I was twenty-six and my Bachelor’s degree until I was thirty-five. The entire time before both these changes took place, I was told by society that if I educated myself, I would get myself and my children out of poverty. Guess what? It did not work because I am back on welfare receiving $318 dollars per month. I did everything society told me to do and I am in the same position I was in nine years ago when I made the decision to attend college and that is a shame.

If I did not have children, there is no way in hell I would have applied for welfare. But when you are a mother, one has to make sacrifices, so I swallowed my pride and applied for cash benefits. By signing the Personal Responsibility contract in return for public assistance, a welfare recipient in essence signs her rights to being an adult away. Recipients must work for their cash and going to school is not an option.

Yes, welfare recipients must WORK for their cash benefits. I know that people believe in the myth of women laying up on welfare, eating bon-bons and spitting out a baby every year while collecting those fat government checks but that is a load of malarkey.

On August 22, 1996 in the Rose Garden of the White House, President William Jefferson Clinton signed into law the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act, better known as welfare reform, dismantling the sixty-one year program of federally guaranteed cash assistance to needy families or what is known as welfare. Welfare recipients have five years to receive cash assistance and after that, it is a wrap. The debate surrounding welfare reform was dominated by white male politicians and journalists and focused predominately on minority women and their families living in poverty because minority women are the only ones in America who received Public Aid (sarcasm). Although President Clinton had the right idea, he and others did not take into account what would happen if the economy collapsed and finding a job would be the equivalency of hitting the lottery.

It burns my soul that I am back on the dole, working for $318 per month which is equal to $79.50 per week at six hours per day after everything I went through to better myself. If I refuse to go to any of the job sites my caseworker sends me to, I will be sanctioned, meaning that my monthly benefits will be cut in half to $159. So the next time, a hardworking tax payer complains about welfare recipients and how they are living good, eating lobster and shit, think about me, the college educated single mother who took care of her children, saw two of them graduate from high school, one from college, only to find herself and youngest child still poverty-stricken and broke as hell.

Also, if anyone knows of any job opportunities in the Chicagoland area, please let me know.

Living in a Garbage Can

For the past two years and two months, I have resided in a garbage can. The smells of old garbage, urine, and human funk permeate the air of my surroundings, and stray cats yowl in the middle of the night. The garbage can where I live actually has a name and it is Parkway Gardens Apartments, a federally subsidized low-income housing unit on the South Side of Chicago.

How did a college educated individual like me end up living in a garbage can? After getting laid-off in August of 2007 from my job as an administrative assistant, it seemed like the Furies of Greek mythology were after me. Other than temp work, I could not find a job, full or part-time, and I could not afford the rent at my previous residence. I decided to look on the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) website for subsidized housing.

This is my second stint in subsidized housing. The first stint was from 2002 to 2007. During that time, I went to college, received a Bachelor’s degree and maintained a 3.6 average, obtained a full-time job and my eldest daughter graduated from high school with a 4.2 grade point average, and then I moved. While receiving help from the government, a multitude of men did not live with me, nor did I have any more children, the stereotypical things that those poor, trifling black single mothers who receive government assistance are supposed to do. There is a concept amongst the common consensus that low-income housing is not supposed to be permanent, but rather a stepping stone to a better life and that is true. However, I did exactly what society told me to do (bettered myself and my children) and I almost ended up homeless. I was faced with the choice of residing in a shelter or Parkway Gardens, and I chose Parkway.

I have resided in some real flophouses during my lifetime but Parkway Gardens takes the cake. As a native South Sider, I have known about Parkway Gardens my entire life, but one has to live here to understand the madness that is Parkway. The stuff that goes on in Parkway is unbelievable considering that it is right down the street from the University of Chicago. Drug dealing, gang-banging, whoring; everything goes in Parkway Gardens! The filth is insidious and pervasive, the kind that follows you because no matter how hard you clean your apartment, the smell is there. At least it is to me. My son says that our apartment is fine but I am so paranoid, it is ridiculous.

But this story is not about me, but about how HUD is the biggest slumlord in the United States. There is no accountability for the owners of the properties that HUD gives monies to for rent payments. These owners are receiving millions of dollars from the government but put very little of said money into the general maintenance of the properties, leaving people to live in abject squalor at the taxpayers’ expense.

I have called the multihousing unit hotline number that HUD has on its website several times to complain, but I was told that HUD has nothing to do with the upkeep; all they do is pay the rent. It is up to the owners and property management to take care of everything. I just want to know what stupid individual came up with the idea to take accountability from HUD and give it to the property owners who just want to make a buck.

The Tea Partiers and the Republicans are constantly carrying on about government waste and trying to slash Medicare and Medicaid, but they need to look into the budget for the Department of Housing and Urban Development because millions of dollars are going to waste. And by the way, Parkway Gardens Apartments has been sold to a real estate in New York for forty million dollars. Yes, forty million dollars for a 694 unit garbage can that houses over one thousand families. It is also rumored that Parkway makes over eight million dollars a year from rental subsidies all thanks to the largesse of HUD. Rather than looking for ways to cut and divert our attention to systems and programs that, while not always perfect, provide a benefit for the public good and well-being, politicians should actually take a closer examination at programs and systems (e.g. HUD) that need to either be amended or gentrified or the management carved and served in time for Thanksgiving.

If I was White, Female and Privileged for One Day

First of all, before I write this essay, I would like to state that I love being a black woman.  I love the beautiful brownness of my skin, my hair which is a crown that has anointed me Queen of my universe, my full lips, slanted eyes, and the strength of my ancestors who have dealt with much adversity during their journeys here in America and whose blood flow proudly in my veins.  But I have to admit, I wonder what it would be like to be a white female just for a day to see what it would to be like to be considered Aphrodite rising from the sea because at times, it is hard being a black women in a society that is sexist and has placed women who look like me on the bottom rung of every ladder in American society from economics to beauty.

White privilege is a critical race theory I came across in college during an African American history class.  I had to read an article entitled, White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack by Peggy McIntosh and it opened my mind to some concepts I had never thought about before.  According to this article, white privilege can be defined as unearned advantages enjoyed by white people beyond those commonly experienced by people of color in the same social, political, and economic spaces (nation, community, workplace, income, etc.) just because they are white.

White privilege is a topic most whites do not want to talk about because in admitting they are privileged because of their skin color would mean admitting that racism still exists and is not a figment of black folks’ imaginations but I digress.  It must be nice living in a world where almost every image of your kind is thought to be good and pure and I would like some of that privilege just for one day.

Just for once, it would be nice to go on a job interview and not have to worry about the texture of my hair and wonder if the person I am interviewing with has a problem with afros, two-strand twists, or any other “black ethnic” hairstyle I might be wearing that day.  If I was a white woman, I could toss my silky, long hair around with no problems.

Just for once, it would be nice not to be labeled an angry, bitter, black female who is filled with hatred just because I happen to have an opinion different from the black man that I am debating with.  If I was white woman, I could be as argumentative as I want and be told that I am merely feisty.  Black men would swim through a river of snot for me and tell me that black women are just too combative to be considered “wifey” material and that is why 40% of African American women remain unmarried.  As a white woman, I would be able to date freely and not be told by my peers to lower my expectations or else die a lonely and miserable spinster with five kids with five different fathers.

Just for once, it would be nice to see someone who looks like me on a regular basis on the covers of high fashion magazines and playing the role of the leading lady in movies and television shows. As a black woman, I am constantly scolded by the media and some of my people for being too dark, too nappy, and too fat and that I will never be placed on that anointed pedestal as the standard of beauty and loveliness for American society.  If I was a white woman, this problem would be null and void because I would be considered the crème de la crème.

But alas, I am a black woman and that is nothing to shirk at.  The strength and tenacity of black women who can make something literally out of nothing is something to be admired than scorned and I am proud to be one.  I actually feel sorry for white women sitting upon that fabled pedestal because it is a lonely tour of duty filled with unrealistic and shallow expectations and most fall swiftly and hard from that same pedestal.  Better to be me with all my flaws, real and imagined than to be the poster child of impossible beauty. But I can keep it real; sometimes I wonder what it would be like to be a white woman. In my world, black women are called everything but a child of God and for once, it would be nice to be the anointed one.

Being Without a Label in American Society

For many years, I considered myself to be a liberal and a democrat because for the most part, I agree with the platforms of both groups. However, several incidents have led me to disown my affiliations with both parties. I cannot be a part of organizations whose views are diametrically opposed to mine.

First the liberals: One of my favorite websites is Huffington Post. I came across Huffington Post in 2005 right after Hurricane Katrina and became big fan of Arianna Huffington. I wish she could run for President because she is one of the smartest, most articulate individuals I have run across while surfing the Internet but alas, she cannot because she not a natural born American citizen. I really used to enjoy the commentary on Huffington but now there is so much arguing and nitpicking, it has become depressing and tedious.

I was truly disgusted when Roman Polanski was finally arrested (but let go) for his rape and drugging of a 13-year-old girl and thousands of commentators on this website defended this piece of shit on this asinine basis: he was an Oscar winning artist, the crime was over thirty years ago, his victim has moved on with her life, and you know how these young girls are.

As a mother of daughters, any man who drugs and sodomizes a little girl deserves to be castrated, horsewhipped buck naked, and salt should be rubbed in his wounds. I do not give a fuck about his movies and the joy he has brought to thousands of movie lovers around the world: Roman Polanski is a pedophile and should be treated accordingly. I lost all respect for Whoopi Goldberg, Oscar winning actress and social activist, and mother to a daughter and granddaughters when she stated what Mr. Polanski did was not considered “rape, rape”. Some of these same liberals will get upset when conservatives attack liberals for being morally bankrupt, not understanding defending a child molester is morally bankrupt.

I was also disgusted with liberals when several white liberals blamed blacks for the passage of Proposition 8 in California. Although blacks are clearly the minority in California, some white liberals jumped on blacks in Cali like they stole their last pair of draws. These individuals were angry because since they voted in masses for Barrack Obama, blacks were supposed to vote against Proposition 8, not understanding that blacks are basically conservative when it comes to religion and are extremely homophobic. The racist rhetoric that was spewed by whites on several liberal websites was astounding. It let me know that although some whites claim to be liberal, they will toss minorities to the wolves when they do not vote the way they want them to.

Now the Democrats: How can I respect a political party that has the majority but cannot get a bill passed? Republicans are trifling as hell but they have balls. Democrats have no balls and they do not care about their constituents at all. They need us when it is time to vote but after the election, we are tossed to wolves.

In America, a person has to have some type of label in order to be accepted by mainstream society. I have decided to say fuck mainstream society. I refuse to be labeled any longer. Dumbocrats, Libertards, Republikkkans. All this name calling is silly as hell and while people sit around and argue over ideology, the rich is fucking the American public up the ass with no grease.

The Racist Next Door

When most people think of racists, images of angry white men in white robes and hoods burning crosses in the yards of terrified blacks come to mind. However, since the advent of the Internet, a racist might actually be in the cubicle next to you at work or happen to be the person that will interview you for a job and that is a really scary thought.

Since the election of the first black President of the United States, racist rhetoric about minorities, particularly blacks posted online has risen to all time levels according to my own polling results. Anytime there is an article about crimes committed by black people posted on various websites such as the Suntimes.com or Yahoo, angry whites filled with fear and loathing spew all types of stereotypical nonsense. To be perfectly honest, any articles posted online about blacks bring out all the crazies. However, when a crime is committed by whites in a predominantly white area, one can almost hear the crickets chirping. Hell, it can be a positive story about minorities and some fool will write something ignorant in order to make their miserable lives better

Hispanics and Muslims have taken a beating online also. According to the unenlightened masses online, illegal Mexican immigrants are taking over America and Muslims cannot wait to bomb America to hell. Anybody other than white and Christian is suspect and will be tossed to the lions.

Most of this racist rhetoric is based on fear. According to statistics, whites are going to be the minority in this country by 2050, so some whites are running around like foxes in the henhouse, worried about keeping their notions of white superiority intact.

What these individuals do not understand is that they have nothing to fear. Institutionalized racism and notions of white superiority are deeply ingrained in American society and regardless of if whites do become the minority, nothing is going to change. In inner-cities throughout America, black youth are killing and shooting each daily and they are not concerned about white people. I cannot speak for other minorities but I would bet my last dollar that other minorities are not concerned about harming whites either.

What I fear most is in today’s economic turndown, some of the best and brightest are going to be locked out of the job market due to their ethnicity and someone else’s insecurity about changing demographics. It is hard enough trying to find a job without worrying about the color of your skin.

Makes Me Wanna Holla

Living in the inner-city will take the joy out of your life if you let it. Who wouldn’t be depressed about being surrounded by ignorant male youth lounging aimlessly on the corners bragging about the women they used to have, foul-mouthed, uncouth young women fighting over unemployed men, and older folks so beaten down by life that they spend their remaining days drinking their lives away, and no job opportunities? Everyday I see desolation, grit and grime but I still manage to see beauty in my surroundings. The beauty of seeing a grandmother who takes her great-grandchildren to school at time when she should be chilling out somewhere in Florida but like the good solider she is, knows her duty. The beauty of working mothers taking their daughters to work with them during summer vacations, reminding me of the times I went to work with my mother. The beauty of the innocent faces of children, alight with the wonder and joy of being young and carefree. The sadness I feel knowing in a few years, some of these children’s faces will have hardened into hate and apathy.

Urban decay is abundant in my neighborhood and several other communities throughout America. Vacant lots filled with trash and foreclosed, boarded-up properties are on every corner and you have to travel thirty blocks to find decent food to cook for your family unless you decide to settle for food markets in the area that will sell you rotted vegetables and fruit with no problem because no one cares. Not the politicians who gloss over the plight of the poor people in this country and blame them for their unsavory lifestyles. Not the so-called middle-class, who are so afraid of being lumped with the poor that they have turned their backs on them and have taken on the beliefs of the oppressors instead of aiding them, not understanding that everyone in this country is one paycheck away from being in the welfare or unemployment office unless you are of the one percent that owns everything in America.

This is my reality of living in the inner-city. Although I am surrounded by some of the bleakest parts of human nature, I know that there is beauty in my world and refused to believe otherwise. American society has all but written off the plight of the poor but we are here and we are not going anywhere. We are not nameless, faceless statistics. We have the same dreams and aspirations that everyone has in this country: a chance to be a part of the American Dream where everyone has an opportunity to succeed and make a positive contribution to society. A chance to be somebody. Is that asking too much?

The Attack of the Crazy White People

Ever since President Obama was elected almost two years ago, I have noticed a lot of insanity from a certain segment of the white population.  President Obama has been been accused of the taking away the civil liberties of “real Americans” to not actually being an American at all but a Kenyan socialist fascist who is going to put American children in boot camps and indoctrinate them with all types of socialist, evil thoughts.  The most ludicrous thing he has been accused of is being an advocate of the poor (code word for blacks and browns).

Let me tell you one thing:  having a black president has not done shit for me (excuse the slang).  As a black person, my wallet has not gotten any fatter since his election and if anything, my pockets are lighter.  I am currently unemployed (with a Bachelor’s Degree) and  wondering how am I going to pay  my bills since I cannot find a job (and I really want one. (Badly).

When I see all those poor, misguided angry white people protesting against President Obama  for alleged crimes against white humanity, I snigger to myself and wonder where were all these people when President Bush passively watched while an entire city swam in their own shit after Hurricane Katrina hit or when Bush and his enablers started a war with an ideology (terrorism).  But of course President Bush looked just like them and it was okay for him to make mistakes because they could drink a case of beer with him.  The Light-Skinned Negro from Nowhere who went on to win the Presidency of the United States cannot make any mistakes or he is considered a charlatan.

It use to be a time in American history when white racists were proud of their viewpoints and had no problem with admitting their racism (remember Governor Wallace?). Today’s racists hide behind code words and the Internet and pretend that they are not racists.  They are just honest, hard-working Americans who want their country back.  Guess what people?  It is time to get a clue and take a couple of college courses in history, civics, and sociology. But to get an education is considered elitist to that ilk and that will never happen.

My Vida Loca

As I sit here contemplating my broke-ass life, I keep going back to the things I learned in college. I am currently out of work (almost two years), graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in sociology and a 3.8 grade point average, several years of administrative/clerical experience, and an ability to work with all types, assholes and all. However, even with all those wonderful qualities, I cannot find a job to save my life but others with less education and funky attitudes have lost their jobs and found new ones. Feelings of self-loathing and inadequacy run through my veins on a daily basis and a rage is building. A rage against a society that tells individuals that a college degree is the path to a better life, but does not disclose how centuries of stratification, racism, ageism, and gender bias have kept and will continue to keep the best and brightest out of the workforce. A rage against myself for waiting so long to get my shit together and therefore, having to deal with the consequences of being considered passé in the workforce.
I have two children graduating next year, one from high school, one from college, and I do not have a job! I walk a tightrope of insanity every day and I feel as though some people are laughing at me because I went to college at the age of thirty-one, earned a degree, but cannot find employment. I am from the ‘hood and being college educated is looked upon as less than nothing in ghetto. People told me I was too old to be going back to school, but I did not give a fuck. I wanted to be an educated woman who can converse almost on any subject with wit and objectivity. However, sometimes, I think they may have been right.
The devil has been whipping my ass as of late and has been telling me that I was fool to go to college. I am talented with some curlers and have the skills to become a licensed cosmetologist but I wanted a college degree. I love to read, think, and debate about life but it is hard to find jobs in those categories. What happens to people like me? I am not math and science oriented so majoring in business administration or engineering would have been a waste of time. I took an introduction to sociology class and was hooked from day one. Sociology explained so much to me and made me want to make a difference in the world. I have to live in this crazy shit: why not help out?
I guess I am just a broke-ass, frustrated intellectual trying to find her way in world where mediocrity is rewarded abundantly. But, fuck the devil! Martin Luther King and W.E.B Du Bois are two of the greatest figures in African-American history and they both majored in sociology, and had to deal with more obstacles than I will ever. Hopefully, some day soon, my time to shine will come. Until then, I will continue to take care of my children and pray.

Human Misery

Most people in our society are desperately unhappy with the state of their lives. How do I know? By reading the comments of individuals who comment on various blogs. The commentators are vicious, cruel, judgmental, and plain old mean. The media is no help with their biased views and its ability to sell their brand of morality to billions.

Michael Jackson died and the media and some individuals are dragging his life through the mud. Their justification is that Michael led a unconventional lifestyle, which, according to them included, sexual molestation, his skin color, plastic surgeries, the race of his children, etc., etc. I thought Anna Nicole had it bad. Even in death, he cannot get the peace that he had been so obviously seeking. Why do individuals get a thrill out of desecrating the dead?

But that doesn’t answer the question. Why are so people so unhappy in American society? How can unhappiness be allowed in a country whose very principals is based on the pursuit of Happiness? How can a country whose very premise is based on happiness have more than forty-four million illiterate and barely literate people? Ignorance is not bliss and someone who cannot read and comprehend cannot be truly happy.

“We have made up a God in our image. Because we are angry and judgmental, we have projected those characteristics onto Him. But God remains who He is and always will be: He is the energy, the thought of unconditional love. He cannot think with anger or judgment. He is mercy and compassion and total acceptance.”

Marianne Williamson.


Losing my Mama

The last two years of my life has been particularly difficult. I lost my mother to diabetes complications and although I have tried to pretend that everything is okay, it’s not. I will never get over the fact that I will never see my mother again.

Her death was my greatest childhood nightmare and it came true on December 6, 2006 at 4:45pm. I was on my way to the hospital from work to visit her when I received a call on my cell, informing me that my mother had expired. Such a cold, clinical way to tell someone that their mother was dead. I remember silently crying on the bus and people staring at me as if I was some crazed individual. I wanted to scream, “My mama is dead, dead, dead!” but of course I didn’t. As usual I kept my pain and my thoughts to myself. I got off the bus and slowly walked across the street on route to the hospital.

It was cold, dreary and snow was everywhere and my mother was dead. I remember calling the father of my children, telling him that my mama was dead. I remember calling my eldest daughter and telling her that her granny was dead, the lady who helped raised her. I remember walking into the lobby of Michael Reese Hospital and the nice security guard telling me to sign in. I remember getting into the elevator on route to the tenth floor and getting off. I remember the blank looks on the faces of the nurses on her floor. I remember walking into her room and seeing her laying on the bed with her eyes closed and her mouth open, just like she was asleep, just like she always slept. But she wasn’t sleep, she was dead, dead, dead. I remember touching her and noticing that she was still warm.

I remember leaving the room and speaking with physician and passively listening to her explanation for my mother’s death and asking for a place to still down and think. I remember calling my boss to inform her that my mother was dead and did not know when I would be returning. I remember calling various family members and friends to talk and cry and putting the phone down.

Memories of my childhood come back to me. Of going to work with her during the summer when I was off from school. Shopping on State Street with her for school clothes, Easter clothes, books, and toys. Meeting her at the bus stop when she got off work. Of going to the Clock with her, a neighborhood juke joint on some Saturday afternoons and drinking orange juice while she had a cold Millers. Memories of her when I was in the hospital having my eldest child and my mother screaming at doctors, telling them that I was in pain. Of sitting beside her listening to stories of ghosts and hants that her mother had told her when she was a little girl.

Remembering how hard she worked as a single, poor mother making sure that I never missed a school trip or a function. Of the time when she was in the hospital with the same disease that took her away two weeks before Christmas back in 1978 and how she made Christmas happen for a little girl who so afraid and marvel at her strength. Hoping that I become one-tenth the woman she was. Rest in peace Ms. Gertrude Allen Henry. Although I will never get over you, I will always have my memories.