48 cents and why poverty sometimes beats working poor

When it comes to providing my son with food and fun in San Francisco, I spare little expense. Granted, our thrills run cheap – crêpes and books, with an eye toward Alcatraz from time to time. Still, a couple days can run a couple hundred dollars, especially when totalled with the cost of gas. When I slid my card through the machine at Trader Joe’s, I held my breath. I’d completely lost track of how much I’d spent, what my balance was and what transactions had or hadn’t cleared. The receipt buzzed out affirmative, however, so I sighed with relief and hustled my full cart out to the car.

Upon checking the checking account, I saw just how close I’d come to the cringe-inducing “declined”: 48 cents. That’s my buffer zone until payday tomorrow, causing me to wonder, how have I lived this long, worked this hard, to still be living so damn close to the edge financially?

Yes, it’s a somewhat rhetorical question, easily answered by comparing the mathematics of income to expense and pointing to such statements as, “I’d completely lost track of how much I’d spent, what my balance was and what transactions had or hadn’t cleared.” But, still… between taking a second job and getting a raise a couple years ago, my income went up significantly. And for a while, making more money solved my financial problems. (Go figure!) But over the past year, expenses have risen to suck the bank account dry once again.

Like most people, our food bill and gasoline expenses carve an ever-growing hole out of the budget. Add to that, the income-dependent bills come due and benefits lost. Instead of our student loan payments being deferred or $80/month, they’ve rocketed to $300/month. That hurts. And because even steady, career-oriented jobs pay little around here, we still qualified for some help through Social Services: most importantly, Medi-Cal. Now we’re getting kicked off.

Two steps forward, one step back? More like two steps forward – and then being kneecapped.

Nick and Kaylee should still be covered under Healthy Families – although that safety net is in danger of being ripped out by Schwarzenegger’s budget proposal – but Bobby and I? S.O.L. Some day I will write my own treatise on why school, health care and parenting support should be part of a compassionate, intelligent society, but right now, the clock demands I close.


2 thoughts on “48 cents and why poverty sometimes beats working poor”

  1. I hate that scary feeling where you’re not quite sure if you can afford to go to the doctor this month! Thank God my husband now has medical insurance.

  2. Hang in there Jen. We who work in the Social Services are very worried about what monies will be cut from the state budget. I worked so many hours this last year, but I still owe the IRS some money. They never seem to get enough.

    I hope things get better for us all.


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