Survival (By: Michele Babcock-Nice)

Survival means different things to different people.  Survival may be a concept that many believe applies only to animals or creatures living in the wild.  Of course, there are those “survival” shows on TV, as well, in which people place themselves in risky and dangerous situations for the sake of money, fame, and entertainment.  Being smart about survival when outdoor temperatures are too hot or too cold, or when natural disasters occur, saves lives.  But, there are additional meanings to the word, ‘survival,’ as well, to be explored here.  For people who experience traumatic situations, survival means applying ways to protect oneself in order to continue living, physically, mentally, and spiritually.

To many people who are without work, shelter, and/or food, survival means doing what is needed to live for another day, week, month, year.  To families where this is the case, survival means sacrifice, sometimes doing without life’s comforts, cutting back on food, doing as little as possible in order to spend as little money as possible.  For people who have lost jobs, homes, incomes, marriages, savings, credit standing, and more, survival means sacrifice and doing the best one can to survive every day.

What I have experienced in each of those situations is that most people turn away from those who are in need.  Most folks are unable to believe it and really cannot stomach it to hear about other’s woes of poverty.  When people are so poor that they turn to doing things that are illegal, it does not surprise me, I don’t wonder why.  I would not reduce myself to such a level, however I understand why it happens.  Most people who “have” keep what they have.  There is an incredible level of blindness by the haves toward the “have nots.”  And, with the economic woes our country has experienced over the past several years, I, personally, have not experienced improvement.

The holidays are the toughest time of the year.  One wants to provide for their children for these special times.  Thankfully, there are others in my extended family who have more means to provide than I do since I must now live within the bare means.  But, it is always saddening and disappointing when folks such as myself are overlooked, even in a basic need for food.  No one ever expects to see someone who is Caucasian to be begging, and even if they do, they don’t believe it and are in denial, typically seeking something illegal rather than simply being a good Samaritan.

So, this year, I didn’t beg.  Instead, I lost weigh by eating less.  Cutting out the fattening food and just eating less won’t hurt me.  One has to live, or rather, survive.  One is not living when each day, week, month, year is a financial struggle.  Being a step away from walking or riding the bus instead of having a vehicle, or being a step away from making a home out of the vehicle is not living, it’s surviving.  I don’t know how people do it.  I don’t know how I’ve survived, but where there’s a will, there’s always a way.  I have less, but I am blessed because I have learned to survive with it.  Survival of the fittest.

The best part about survival is that I have learned much from it.  I’ve learned that I can survive on nothing.  I can survive on a shoe string.  I can use what I have, and when I don’t have anything, I can go without.  I will always go without so my family has what is necessary.  So, survival has also built my character, my persistence, my perseverance, not that I needed any more of that, however.  But, the worst part about survival is that it has also eroded my faith and hope in people.  Basically, life is a struggle, so one must be thankful for the good that there is.

Sacrifice.  Survival.  Those are my two words for today.  What do they mean to you?

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Being Most Thankful for Family (By: Michele Babcock-Nice)

Happy Thanksgiving! (Retrieved from www.vintag.es, November 27, 2014)

Happy Thanksgiving! (Retrieved from http://www.vintag.es, November 27, 2014)

On Thanksgiving, what I am always most thankful for is my family.  My family is always there for me in thick and thin.  My family has weathered many storms and enjoyed sunny days together; I can count on my family for love, compassion, and support, and I provide the same to them. I don’t have a very large family, nor do I have much money, but I have a big heart, full of lots of love. My love is shared with and among my family, for whom I am most thankful on  Thanksgiving and every day.

Other things for which I am thankful include food, faith, community, freedom, education, technology, career, and health.  I am thankful for food, though it is not easy to get by from month to month with food prices continuing to rise.  I appreciate my faith because, if it was not for that, I would not be where I am today, and things would likely be much worse.  I am grateful for community, such as organizations that provide fellowship, to my family.

I am always thankful for freedom and I remember my grandmother’s stories about when she lived in Communist Poland, with people fearing for their lives when homes were raided in the middle of the night and people were never seen again.  I am grateful for education, though the large debt required to pay for it is a hardship.  I appreciate technology that makes life easier.  And, I am thankful for career in many capacities, including that of being a mother, as well as for the potential of a stable gainful and enjoyable employment in a workplace with decent people, if that is ever attainable.  I am thankful for my good health so I do not have to pay out-of-pocket to see the doctor as a result of being without health insurance.

So often, organizations such as colleges, churches, and charities have fundraising drives to help give to those in need.  When I am asked to donate, I reply that I could benefit from some assistance, myself.  As a poor single white mother, so often such places overlook people such as myself, as has occurred again this year.  People in my shoes are reduced to begging for even a little bit in return.  People may maintain the perspective that whites have privilege and that is definitely a stereotype that hurts poor white single mothers such as myself because the majority of any aid, as I observe, goes to people of other races.

I am also thankful for the holes in some of my shabby clothes and worn-out shoes, the place that I live even though it is not my own, the student loans that provide opportunity, my nearly decade-old vehicle that is still in great shape, and that sacrifices that I am able to make for the benefit of my family.  I am thankful for the $15 haircut that I get every two months instead of going to a salon and spending loads of money, and the $3 bottle of fingernail polish that I can use for a manicure or pedicure instead of going someplace to have it done for me.  I am grateful for the free lunch that I eat twice each week at my apprenticeship, and for the store closing sale at the local KMart where I can save a few dollars on Christmas gifts for my son.  I am thankful for what little I have because more is always spent than saved.

These are additional reasons why I am thankful for my family, particularly at Thanksgiving.  Every so often, there is that rare person who comes along who might be caring and/or supportive, but with my family, I know they will always be there, in good and in bad, in sickness and in health, for richer or for poorer.  People should be more important than money and possessions, and indeed, my family is most important to me.

So, on this Thanksgiving, I invite you to think about family, values, and people in need.  Think about and be thankful for people who are close to you.  Think about people whom you see at work or in church every week who have little or nothing, and who are usually overlooked in their need.  Take action on what you can do rather than what you cannot.  Open your heart and mind to see what you do not want to see, and take action for what you otherwise would not have done.   A little bit goes a long way, especially for folks who don’t have much.

Happy Thanksgiving!  Remember what you are thankful for!

[Author’s Note: Within one day of posting this article, I was solicited by a man on LinkedIn, out-of-state, to contact him by whatever means necessary.  People really need to get their heads out of the gutter, and be open to simply being helpful to those in need without being offensive and/or wanting something (inappropriate) in return.  Solicitation is so offensive, degrading, and dehumanizing to me; is nothing that I have ever done; and it is incredible to me that so many men (I’ve experienced this many times on LinkedIn) do it.  It is unfortunate and tragic for humanity that there are those who attempt (and succeed) in taking advantage of people in need in a sexual manner.]

“America’s Invisible Poor: White Single Mothers” (By: Michele Babcock-Nice)

The holiday season is the time of year for giving, including giving and generosity to the poor and less fortunate.  This church is collecting food for this food drive, and this bank is collecting for this canned food drive, and this grocery store is collecting these toys, etc.  This is all wonderful and needed in our society in which the poor are often invisible and forgotten.  Following the crash of the housing markets and real estate in this country in 2007, the economy has not been kind to the poor; and, indeed, many of those who began experiencing poverty at that time are still impoverished.  Times are still difficult for those who are poor, and who live at or below poverty level.

In the United States, a country in which the highest current poverty rates are among Blacks, followed by Hispanics, the population by race that has evidenced lowest poverty is Whites.  Even so, in my own observations among Caucasians, those who experience the invisibility of poverty are single and/or divorced mothers.  Perhaps because the present poverty rate among Whites is less than 10% of the population in the United States, and because Caucasians are the majority race in this country, particular poverty among White single mothers is relatively invisible.  I mean, how many White single mothers do you know who are in poverty?  Perhaps because I am more cognizant of it, I am aware of several, though are you able to identify any?  I would like to share a bit about those Caucasian women who are divorced and/or single mothers in Gwinnett County, Georgia.

One Caucasian woman I know, who is in her early 40s, is a divorced, single mother of one child, and has lived below poverty level for the past five years.  She is educated with a master’s degree, but has been unable to acquire gainful employment for the past 5.5 years.  She has received several forms of public assistance within the past four years, received unemployment benefits for more than two years, and is currently receiving food stamps.

While this lady is appreciative of the assistance that she has received, it has not been enough to raise her socioeconomic status, and she continues to live below poverty level.  She has also received some financial, food, and clothing assistance through a charitable organization that is associated with her church in the past two years.  She lost her home, experienced a bankruptcy, does not have health insurance, and has been unemployed for the past 4.5 years.  Also being depleted throughout a period of several years has been her retirement account.  She is also a recipient of food and support from her extended family.  What she desires is gainful employment in order to care for and support her family.

1980-2010 US Poverty Rates (Source: http://www.firstcoastnews.com/news/article/218773/0/Poverty-Rate-Rises-In-America)

1980-2010 US Poverty Rates (Source: http://www.firstcoastnews.com/news/article/ 218773/0/Poverty-Rate-Rises-In-America)

Another Caucasian woman whom I know is experiencing a divorce.  She is a woman in her late 20s to early 30s.  Her husband had an affair, left her and their four children, and is living with his mistress.  Having four young children, she has remained at home to care for and raise them, and is not employed outside of the home.  She is also not educated beyond high school.  Her husband left her and their four young children, along with a house that she is unable to pay for.  She hired a divorce attorney who is well-known in the area, and hopes to utilize his services in order to secure as stable a financial future for herself and the children as possible.

One young White woman whom I know has three children and is pregnant with her fourth.  She is about 18-20 years old, and she and her children live with her parents.  She does not have a boyfriend or significant partner involved in her life to provide assistance to her or the children.  She remains at home to care for her children, is not employed outside of her home, and does not have health insurance.  She receives food stamps, and is in a program to potentially receive temporary aid for needy families (TANF).  The TANF program requires her to come to four two-hour meetings during a one to two month period in order to receive assistance.

This lady must leave her children in the care of her parents, and take a bus – including a switch-over to a second bus – throughout a long distance, in order to attend the TANF meetings for potential assistance.  She went to one meeting, and did not attend any of the others.  She feels tired and hopeless that she will ever receive the assistance and support that she needs in order to better herself and her circumstances.  For a young woman, she is the most passive and hopeless White single mother whom I know.  I have wondered, myself, if her circumstances involve incest or sexual assault, particularly because she lives with her family and she began having babies at the age of 14 or 15 years old.

Another woman whom I know is also White and single due to her husband’s death.  She is in her 30s, works as a hair dresser, and has four children, including a newborn.  Her husband committed suicide; he did not present with noticeable symptoms to her of being depressed or suicidal, however I would have considered him to be an alcoholic.  She is responsible for the four children, the family home, the costs of the recent remodeling done to the home. and the new truck.  She has received the assistance and support of her parents, as well as by some people in the community and through church.

Percentage of Children in Single Parent Families, 2000s (Source: http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/Bridging-Differences/2013/05/Petrilli_poverty_%26_schools.html)

Percentage of Children in Single Parent Families, 2000s (Source: http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/Bridging-Differences/2013/05/Petrilli_poverty_%26_schools.html)

Yet a further White woman whom I know is in her 40s, and is recently separated from her common law husband of 20 years, with one child.  While together, the woman and man had their struggles, became addicted to drugs and alcohol, and went through a bankruptcy.  The woman has not worked in many years, does not have health insurance, and was reliant on the meager financial support of her common law husband and his parents.

This woman’s parents died when she was a child, and she, herself, was raised by her eldest brother.  She applied for food stamps and was required to provide documentation of her financial status, though she was unable to submit all documents because her partner refused to give them to her.  The food stamp case worker required her to jump through several hoops that she was unable to do because her partner was uncooperative, thus contributing to the further detriment of the woman and their child.

1988-2010 Graph of Poverty in America by Four Races of People (Source: http://tcf.org/blog/detail/graph-poverty-on-the-rise-in-america)

1988-2010 Graph of Poverty in America by Four Races of People (Source: http://tcf.org/blog/detail/graph-poverty-on-the-rise-in-america)

Regarding this woman, at one point, her broke down, and she was unable to pay for repairs, causing further hardship.  She and her partner, both, have had many sexual partners throughout their own relationship, with her partner openly speaking about his current mistress to her and their child.  The woman, herself, has intimate relationships with both men and women by meeting people on ashleymadison.com; some of these liaisons provide her with money and/or high ticket items that she uses to support herself and her child.  In short, she has become like a prostitute, trading sex for money and/or merchandise in order to survive.

A sixth woman whom I know is also a White single mother.  She is in her 20s, has one young daughter, and lives with her parents.  She works, but is not educated beyond high school.  When her daughter is not in school, her parents take care of the girl.  Of the women I have described above, this lady and her daughter might more closely “fit” what many people may believe is the appearance of being poor.  They are both very thin, and their clothing is of a lesser than average quality.  In cold weather, they both wear light-weight clothing and jackets that do not keep out the cold.  They do not speak of being in need, though it clearly appears that they are.

Another woman whom I know is White and in her 50s with one daughter.  She is divorced, and had been employed as an office manager at a small insurance company.  Two of the young male managers of her company praised and praised her for all of her wonderful work, overtime, and upgrading of the company, but were really being deceitful and fired her, taking over her position.  She filed for unemployment, but is having difficulty with her case because the managers are supporting each other and not her.  She was devastated at losing her job – her sole income; and she lost her home and possessions because her property went into foreclosure.

This lady is extremely depressed, and is taking anti-depressant medication.  She and her daughter now live in a rented room in someone’s residence.  She receives food stamps and welfare (TANF).  She had been attending regular TANF meetings, but has stopped coming out of her despair, devastation, and hopelessness.  She has no family in this area to help provide emotional or financial support.  I am very concerned about her, have given her some emotional support, and have privately prayed for her well-being.

These women are examples of some Caucasians in the Atlanta, Georgia area who are divorced and/or single mothers, and who are in poverty or in need.  All of these women – but for the sixth one – dress well, appear to be fit and healthy, and care for their children as best as they can.  Yet, they are often ignored and overlooked in their poverty because – as some have said they have been told – they don’t “look like” they are poor or in need.  These women are experiencing the invisibility of poverty of Whites who are single and/or divorced mothers.

2013 US Federal Poverty Guidelines (Source: Federal Register)

2013 US Federal Poverty Guidelines (Source: Federal Register)

I, for one, would just like to say that looks are deceiving.  The examples of invisible poverty experienced by the women I have described herein are just that – that looks are deceiving.  Just because the women do not “appear” to be poor, impoverished, or in need does not mean that they are not.  People make all kinds of incorrect assumptions and misjudgments about others simply based on the way that they look on the outside, but sometimes, those notions couldn’t be more wrong.

Because there are more Black and Hispanics who are impoverished in the US than other groups, these are the populations that one might typically think of when generalizing about those who are poor.  On any given day, if one visits a local welfare office in and around Atlanta, about half of the people waiting for assistance are Black and the other half are Hispanic.  There are typically no (or extremely few) people of other races there who can be observed seeking assistance.  That leaves Whites at the bottom.

2008 US Child Poverty (Source:http://www.nccp.org/publications/pub_912.html)

2008 US Child Poverty (Source:http://www.nccp.org/ publications/pub_912.html)

Because Caucasians are the majority race in the US, and because they experience the lowest rates of poverty in our country, there is an invisibility of poverty among Whites, especially among White mothers who are single and/or divorced, and their children.  Even while researching online to obtain information and images for this article, I did a search on Google, using the key words, “poverty in America,” and found only two images of White women (with their children) in poverty; one image was a famous Depression-era photo.  This is yet further evidence of the invisibility of the poverty of White single mothers in America.

More aid, assistance, and support is needed for White mothers who are single and/or divorced.  Better opportunities for child care, education, and employment are also needed for this population.  Too many White single mothers and their children are being ignored and overlooked in their poverty.  White single mothers and their children need not experience the invisibility of poverty because they are White.  This country can and must do better for those who are in need, especially those who are most vulnerable, overlooked, and invisible.

References

DeGraw, D. (2010).  Census Bureau poverty rate drastically undercounts severity of poverty in America.  AmpedStatus.  http://ampedstatus.com/census-bureau-poverty-rate-drastically-undercounts-severity-of-poverty-in-america/.  Retrieved November 25, 2013.

Federal Register (2013).  2013 HHS poverty guidelines.  Federal Register, Vol. 78, No. 16, pp. 5182-5183Retrieved November 25, 2013.

Fight Poverty (2006).  Child poverty rates across the states, 2004.  Doors to Diplomacy 2006.  http://fightpoverty.mmbrico.com/facts/america.htmlRetrieved November 25, 2013.

First Coast News (2011).  Poverty rates rise in America.  First Coast News.  http://www.firstcoastnews.com/news/article/218773/0/Poverty-Rate-Rises-In-America.  Retrieved November 25, 2013.

Landy, B. (2011).  Blog of the Century: Graph: Poverty on the rise in America.  The Century Foundation.  http://tcf.org/blog/detail/graph-poverty-on-the-rise-in-americaRetrieved November 25, 2013.

Meier, D. (2013).  Bridging differences: What we talk about when we talk about poverty.  Education Week.  http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/Bridging-Differences/2013/05/Petrilli_poverty_%26_schools.html.  Retrieved November 25, 2013.

National American Indian Housing Council (2013).  NAIHC: Native Housing Update: HAC release report and map on rural areas, poverty & housing in America.  http://archive.constantcontact.com/fs165/1102839656375/archive/1112744786740.html.  Retrieved November 25, 2013.

Rogers, S. (2011).  US poverty: Where are the super poor?  The Guardian.  http://www.theguardian.com/news/datablog/2011/nov/03/us-poverty-poorest.  Retrieved November 25, 2013.

Wallace, B. (2012).  Poverty in America infographic.  Z6 Mag.  http://z6mag.com/lifestyle/poverty-in-america-inforgraphic-1613292.html.  Retrieved November 25, 2013.

Wight, V.R., Chau, M., & Aratani, Y. (2010).  Who are America’s poor children?  National Center for Children in Poverty.  http://www.nccp.org/publications/pub_912.html.  Retrieved November 25, 2013.