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Can You “Bootstrap” Your Way Out of Poverty?

Submitted by on January 20, 2014 – 9:41 am 90 Comments

poverty-boot-strapsA Yahoo Finance article says “no”, citing reasons such as the inability to find affordable housing, transportation to a job, and a decent grocery store.  I obviously can’t speak for every city or every situation, but I’d like to delve a little bit further into my own childhood situation and how my own mother bootstrapped herself out of poverty. And then, I want your opinion: Was my mom’s situation different?  Did she have benefits or opportunities that people living in poverty don’t have today?

Okay, on to the story

It was January of 1978.  I was 11, my brother was 8, and my other brother was just 2 years old. My parents had separated in hopes of “taking a break” from a rocky marriage, and as so often happens, that separation soon led to divorce.  No one person was at fault; both my parents admit they made a lot of mistakes and thought that being apart would be better.  The judge granted my mom $300 a month in child support, which my dad faithfully paid while supporting himself.  The problem?  The house payment was $250 and mom had zero marketable skills.  She’d been a stay-at-home mom since the day she gave birth to me in 1967.  Mom didn’t even have her drivers’ license at the time, and had no college education.

Mom went on welfare, realizing she couldn’t take care of three kids and herself on $300 a month.  We utilized food stamps for groceries.  With no car, we walked the mile to the grocery store for groceries every two weeks, and pulled them back in a little red wagon.  In the winter time when the wagon wasn’t practical on unshoveled walks, we would walk down to the grocery store and take a cab back, or occasionally get a ride from a friend.

As the months wore on, mom realized that welfare was not the optimum earning situation, so she brushed up on her typing skills (we had bought a very old, used typewriter at a garage sale), took a bus down to a temp agency in hopes of finding work.  By the end of 1978 she landed her first job as a factory worker.  She took the bus there and back, or carpooled with co-workers.  Six months later she quit due to severe depression that had set in.  We were back on welfare.  A year later, in the spring of 1980, mom again picked herself, knowing that she had to do better.  By summer of 1980 she obtained her drivers’ license, and set about to job hunting again.  She got a free piece of crap car from a guy, and then when that died a couple of months later, she made payments on a $200 piece of crap car she bought from a friend.  She drove the POC until a few years later when she built up a credit score and qualified for a car loan on a more reliable, yet still cheap, car.  She would search the paper, call the temp agencies, or take advantage of the employment opportunities the welfare system had privy to.  I might add that the state is MUCH better today at helping the unemployed find work than they were in 1980, but they did manage to find a few things for her.  In the fall of 1980 she got a job as a receptionist.  She worked there for six months before slow business forced them to lay off her co-worker, doubling her work load while at the same time they cut her hours.  She quit that job in 1981 because she couldn’t handle the stress level and again was home and on welfare for several months.  Eventually, after several more attempts and failures at work, she landed a job at an insurance provider, a small-time company, processing claims.  This job led to more, and better as she again dealt with layoffs, etc.

My older younger ( 🙂 ) brother and I were in school, so she had to find child care for my baby brother at the time.  She scoured the neighborhood and checked with local schools for leads on daycare providers that were cheap, and she found them.  This wasn’t easy or fun work, but she did it. I remember picking my baby brother up from daycare after school, and we’d all go home to an empty house while mom worked.

The other thing that contributed to my mom’s success was that us kids were made to take up the slack at home on house-cleaning and cooking, like it or not.  I became the mom, while my mom worked to feed our family.  Again, this wasn’t fun, but we all did what we needed to do, and we got our comeuppance in discipline if we didn’t.  Rarely did we complain because we were glad to not have empty cupboards and not have to worry about the electricity being cut off, both common occurrences when we were on welfare.

My mom, due to a childhood illness that affected her brain, doesn’t have learning come easily to her.  She has to work hard to learn new things, and employers didn’t often have patience with her because of this.  She’s also definitely a Type B personality.  Both of these “hurdles” worked against her as she learned how to become an employee again, but she kept on.  Mom never earned a lot, but she managed what she made well, after she learned how to manage money.  She retired in 2007 at age 62, with a small retirement account and no debt.  Today she still lives retired on her very small budget, but she makes it work.  She is remarried (she remarried after us kids were grown), but her finances and her husband’s finances are staunchly separate.  This isn’t to say he wouldn’t help her out if she needed it, but she’s still very much responsible for her own financial well-being.

My mom overcame lots of hurdles to get off of welfare and out of poverty, and none of those hurdles were easy to conquer, but she did what she knew she had to do.   It wasn’t easy, but it was worth it.  Today, having dealt with unemployment when Rick was laid off in 2010, we found that there were LOTS of resources to help get out of poverty: the library and the unemployment office have Internet access, there are classes on budgeting your money, finding a job, they’ll help you write a resume’, and everything.  Things that my mom didn’t have much of in 1978, yet, she managed, through determination and hard work, to find jobs and earn money.  Looking back to when Rick was unemployed, I can honestly say that our biggest hurdle was our own mismanagement of our money.  That is what got us into the debt mess we’re in today.  We lived in denial about our money situation and stubbornly decided that we deserved to have the things we wanted and needed, instead of working to live within our means at the time.  My point is that the unemployment didn’t cause our money problems; our own financial irresponsibility did.

So, what do you think?  Did my mom have special advantages that made it easier for her to find work, manage her money properly (eventually) and get out of poverty?  

90 Comments »

  • Very inspiring stories. I salute your mother determination to provide what your family needs. The same stories also with my mother, she completed her degree when we are grown up. She start working in government office when I was in the college.

    • Laurie says:

      That’s great, MWD! Isn’t it inspiring to see your parents achieving their goals, even when the world says they’re past their “prime” age for education?

  • Good for your Mother! I think you raised a great point that there are things like the internet that can help people find resources that will keep them out of poverty. I think the biggest challenge for various programs and organizations looking to help those in poverty is getting the word out. There are probably millions who could be taking advantage of one program or another who don’t because they simply aren’t aware of the resource or how to go about getting access.

    • Laurie says:

      You brought up a valid point, DC. I wonder if the case workers in charge of these families are sharing all of the great resources available and families aren’t taking advantage of them, or if they’re just not getting the info in the first place. Hard to say.

  • Not sure about the special advantages, but what a story. It goes to show you that necessity is the mother of invention. No pun intended with mother. 🙂 Sometimes I wish I think of myself more as broke and desperate. I know that sounds weird, but I get so much more focused when s hits the fan. Of course I always prefer it NOT hitting the fan! 🙂

    • Laurie says:

      So true, Tonya! The same goes for things here: when we’re feeling extra tight about money, I get real creative real quick about spending less and earning more. 🙂

  • Celeste says:

    I grew up with nothing. Had a teenage mom and a family history of drop outs. I even had a school principal kindly tell me I was destined for failure. So nice to label people, especially children.

    Luckily, I’m hard headed and used this prediction to fuel my desire to become better, to show them the apple doesn’t fall to close to the tree!

    It’s up to each and everyone one of us to look for opportunities, they just don’t show up. It’s just like if one door closes and anther opens. Sometimes, the door that opens isn’t always the best door for you and you have to know the difference.

    Your mom is an example of a fighter, she may have gotten knocked down and she may have needed a little bit of time to regroup and recoup, I’ve been there…but it sounds like she set a great example for you and your siblings.

    Your mom sounds like just the kind of persona who you need in your life when the chips are down. God Bless her!

    • Laurie says:

      “It’s up to each and everyone one of us to look for opportunities, they just don’t show up. It’s just like if one door closes and another opens. Sometimes, the door that opens isn’t always the best door for you and you have to know the difference.” Celeste, LOVE this. This is exactly what I’m talking about. Life throws everyone lemons, but what are you going to do with those lemons – that is the question.

  • Thank you for sharing your Mom’s (and your) story with us. She sounds like a great Mom and I’m glad she has her financial independence today. I don’t believe getting out of debt or poverty is easy but it can be done. It takes a ton of determination and willpower AND financial know-how. All the determination and willpower in the world will be for nothing, if you don’t learn how to manage money properly.

    • Laurie says:

      This is what my mom found out, Shannon. She started to earn money, but still couldn’t pay her bills because she wasn’t managing properly. Then someone said “Just pay your bills first”. It sounds so simple, but it was a light bulb moment for my mom. She then started to pay her bills first, and wouldn’t spend other money until she knew what she had left after paying her bills. This led, eventually, to an actual budget type of a system, which changed her financial life.

  • Matt Becker says:

    Laurie, thank you so much for sharing. Your mom’s story is incredibly inspirational and puts all those “difficult” moments during the day in perspective. It’s all a matter of focusing on what’s important to you and doing whatever it takes to get there.

    • Laurie says:

      Exactly, Matt. Life turns out much differently when we “do whatever it takes” to get to where we want to go, instead of letting life run roughshod over us. It really does make a difference.

  • I love reading stories about strong (particularly women) who have overcame obstacles to reach a better place. Thanks for sharing your mom’s story Laurie!” My point is that the unemployment didn’t cause our money problems; our own financial irresponsibility did.” This ownership in your situation is only going to mean that you and Rick will be successful with your financial goals Laurie!

  • What a great and inspiring story! I think we all have the ability to bootstrap our way out of any predicament it just comes down to how hard we are willing to work at it. I always think about what I would do in a “worst case scenario” strategy, and I would have no qualms about doing it to support my family.

    • Laurie says:

      I would agree with you, Shannon, as I’ve seen it modeled so clearly in my own life. We have a choice to do whatever we can do, or to give up, right?

  • This is a really inspiring story! I think your mom is a wonder woman! Thanks for sharing this Laurie, that’s the best thing to do never give up even how tough life would be.

  • The only possible “advantage” was two of you being in school so she only needed daycare for one/you being old enough to be substitute mom. But it’s a joke if someone considers that an advantage. This is truly an inspiring story. I have a lot of admiration for your mom being determined enough to find steady work even with all the setbacks she faced. I’m especially in awe of her retiring at 62. Again, what a great story Laurie. Thank you for sharing.

  • Dianne says:

    I had the same difficulties for a few years with me and my daughters. They were teenagers when times got rough. We learned how to eat on $30 a week, save money where we could. But, for me, when times got rough, and I knew my girls were dependent on me, survival mode kicked in, and my girls saw that.

    But, what really helped was my girls’ attitudes. They would babysit and bring home their money and give it to me, happily, because we were a team, and we would survive together, and it gave them such a sense of accomplishment and pride to help provide for the family. I believe when times get rough, and the whole family sticks together, many good lessons can be learned. We made it, because the hard times brought us closer together.

    • Laurie says:

      So true, Dianne!! Yes, we would earn money and give it to mom too. We don’t remember that much, but mom sure does and talks about it to this day. You’re right – sticking together and working together is a huge key to success. Thanks for sharing your story as well. 🙂

  • Hi Laurie and WOW, what an inspiring story!! It’s no wonder you have a heavy survival instinct!

    My life was a similar except I was the only child at home when I was growing up.

    We lived, my mom and I , way under the poverty line and when we first moved to Montreal, there were nights when all the money my mom had could only buy a hamburger. She would cut 2/3 of it and give that to me while she at the remaining 1/3. I was really young at the time so I don’t remember much, but I do know she had it hard. I say SHE, because, honestly, I never felt we were impoverished! I never wanted for anything and as times got a little better for her, I thought we were living like royalty. We had a roof over our heads, used but fashionable clothes and food in our bellies. My mom could stretch a dollar as far as Wyoming…and we live in Canada 🙂

    Suffice it to say, I also learned some very valuable life lessons and was quite independent at a young age…much like yourself.

    These days, ironically, I still live under the poverty line but you would never know it! That, I think is the true lesson my mother imparted on me all those years ago…never apologize for who you are, and never feel that you’re worth less than anyone else.

    Thank you so much for sharing Laurie and thank your mom as well 🙂

    Take care and my best to all.

    Lyle

    • Laurie says:

      Lyle, what an awesome story. And it’s true too about the gratitude part. Once you have lived without food and shelter being a “given”, you understand how blessed you are to have food and shelter. I hated being poor as a kid, for many reasons, but I have never forgotten how blessed we are to have our basic needs met.

  • Thanks for sharing your mom’s story, Laurie. She will, without a doubt, be a role model of strength and perseverance for your family for generations.

  • Loved the story Laurie. I don’t think your mom had any special advantages other than her perseverance to get out of poverty. I think that is the biggest lesson learned here. Thanks for sharing.

  • Pauline says:

    Your mum is a great inspiration. I believe anyone can do a minimum wage job, like cleaning or waitressing, if I had nothing, I would go from restaurant to restaurant until I become a waitress, in a small town with a low cost of living, like the midwest. Even a remote place, where they would probably have a barn or an empty attic to sleep there in the meanwhile. I think after 3-6 months eating leftovers from the restaurant after a shift and sleeping for free I’d have enough for a place of my own, and I’ve seen many not so bad $1,000 budgets in the mid west (Tight Fisted Miser made one with a $350 rent that works out), and could make ends meet on minimum wage.
    There are many jobs like guardian, janitor, house staff for rich people, that will feed you and give you a room. I’d get one of those, even if that means scrubbing toilets.
    One important point about your mum is she didn’t get a car loan on her first day of work, she waited until she had a better situation. Sure it is much harder to get off the ground with kids but if you take it slow and patiently you can do it.

  • Laurie, thanks for sharing that story. Your mom is an amazing person. It definitely is tough to get out of poverty…it takes sacrifice, hard-work and perseverance, and sometimes some luck. I love this story because it shows that it indeed is possible. It isn’t easy, but it is possible. Very inspiring!

    • Laurie says:

      Exactly, Andrew!! It isn’t easy, but it is possible. That is a lesson that was instilled in me, and I try very hard to teach my kids the same thing.

  • Dear Debt says:

    I always love your stories, Laurie. I think your mom did the best she could and was determined to make some things happen. I think you can work really hard and make a lot of things happen, but I do feel like some people are dealt unfair advantages (race, class, gender, etc) that aren’t so easy to overcome. Not saying that success isn’t possible, but there are barriers. I love hearing how people overcome these issues, because it helps others perservere!

  • Man, that is a fantastic story of overcoming economic hardship. Thank you for sharing that, Laurie.

    I’m torn, as I think there are some situations where individual problems are severe enough that bootstrapping is not possible. (Or, at least not possible until those problems are mitigated). I’m thinking of veterans with issues after coming home, or people with addictions, or severe learning disabilities: things that would be hard to overcome without the help of a professional. And then there are people who, like your mom, overcome economic hardship despite having a childhood illness, and I wonder if she can do it, maybe others can, too.

    My mom overcame some long odds to get out of poverty in the Philippines, and I’m always on the fence as to whether that’s due to her hard work, or fortunate circumstances, or both, you know?

    • Laurie says:

      Luckily, there are lots of services these days for vets and for people with addictions too. But it definitely is not easy to overcome that stuff – I agree, as we have several family members who either have been or are struggling with both situations. I have a feeling that with your mom’s situation it was a lot more hard work than fortunate circumstances, being she was in the Philippines. I wonder what she would say?

  • What a nice story! Your mother is clearly the living proof that anybody can do it as long as they want to and she could clearly be used as inspiration for many people out there. Things might be easier today than they were back in the days, but you still need to WANT and FIGHT HARD to get what you want because there’s rarely such a thing as an easy ride.

    • Laurie says:

      C, SO TRUE!! Anyone working to reach a lofty goal needs to want it bad enough and be willing to fight hard to get it. Even people like Donald Trump had to work their tails off day and night – riches didn’t just come to them. Well said, my friend!

  • Laurie,
    Welfare should be a backstop to help people in temporary time of need. Your mother had desire which is the advantage that she has. You can give people all the money in the world and provide programs but it’s the desire and determination that will improve your life. Thanks for sharing your story, we have very similar back stories.

    • Laurie says:

      Exactly, Charles. The desire and determination is crucial. It’s something that has to be welled up from inside of a person. They have to get sick and tired of being sick and tired of their situation, as Dave Ramsey says.

  • It sounds like your mom tried really hard and my guess is that is why she succeeded. I can’t imagine trying to raise kids on welfare and having to work so hard just to make ends meet. I bet you are proud of her.

    • Laurie says:

      That’s right, Holly. She did try really hard, in spite of trying circumstances. She fought again and again until she won. It wasn’t easy, but she did it anyway, and yes, we are so proud of her.

  • Great story. You should be proud of your mom! You and your siblings as well for pitching in and sticking together. I’m sure it was not easy.

    I think its difficult to compare then to now. Different times and different challenges, but should not minimize what has been accomplished.

    • Laurie says:

      I would tend to think it was harder back then, only because welfare programs weren’t as advanced and we have more choices nowadays, like working from home. But, what do I know? 🙂

  • Kathy says:

    A theme I see in reading the various comments is PRIDE. Your mom must have been so proud when she managed to get off welfare, buy a POC car etc. and you are obviously proud of her since you shared this wonderful story with us. I think that part of our welfare climate today is due to a lack of pride. Too many people are willing to just accept what the government gives them as long as they don’t have to do anything to help themselves. They have no pride to spur them on to developing a marketable skill. Your mother had the pride to update her typing skills so she was a more attractive job candidate. I would never say that all welfare recipients are lazy and lack pride, but I will certainly say that there is a good portion of them who are that way.

    • Laurie says:

      So true, Kathy. There’s a country song that says, about country “folk”, “We won’t take a dime if we ain’t earned it”. I think that attitude is missing today in a lot of people. Even in the depression, many people refused to take “handouts” but they would clean your house or mow your lawn in exchange for a meal. Nowadays more people seem eager to just take their free lunch, which, IMHO, can be a very dangerous thing.

  • Brit says:

    Your mom sounds like my mami!It was my mami and us kids and we were in welfare as well and when my mom started working for this company as a temp we were alone. We lived in a city and my mom kept on at her job. Till this day my mom works at her job she started as a temp. Of course she’s a full-timer 2nd shift lead plant manager but she didn’t let language barrier or culture shock get in the way. My mom is my role model. I can imagine the sense of pride your mom had to get out of poverty. Great post really touched me.

    • Laurie says:

      That is amazing, Brit. How these people, of all genders, races and situations get out of poverty in spite of their circumstances is truly inspiring, isn’t it?

  • anna says:

    Your story made me tear up, Laurie! I don’t think your mom had advantages at all, since she had so many hurdles to overcome like her depression. I think that’s what the system is for – to give temporary aid until one is in a better situation, and it sounds like your mom used it in the exact way it should be. I grew up as a latch-key kid, too (though I was the youngest) – I think it speaks volumes that you not only took care of the house, but also your younger siblings. I have no doubt that that’s the reason why you’re so resilient and determined today!

    • Laurie says:

      Thanks so much, Anna. Yeah, my mom really did use the system correctly, although she did say during our “interview” that the system really pushed you to get a job and get off welfare, and I don’t think that happens much today.

  • YES, I think you can bootstrap your way out of poverty. Obviously, if you live on as little as possible (even when times are good), you’ll be doing fine when times get bad.

    Of course, if times are always bad (and they are for some out there), it’s going to be impossible to get out of that. For those, I say, sorry, and let me know what I can do to help.

    For others who do have many good times, I believe we should all save when times are good so we’re ready for when they’re not.

    • Laurie says:

      Great points, Kraig. I think too that you can take those bad times and work to fix the things that are bad, like my mom did. She was uneducated, poor, had no transportation – all kinds of obstacles, but one by one, she found ways to destroy those obstacles and make it work.

  • Aaron says:

    Thanks for your transparency here Laurie. And, kudos to your mother who really stuck it out there in the midst of some very trying circumstances. That couldn’t have been easy for you kids either.

    Not having lived in poverty – but having lived around folks who were in poverty and being around them from time to time in the inner city – I would say it’s probably easier to get aid/help today. But there is still this cycle of poverty in the way people think/act that is extremely difficult to overcome. Esp if you’ve had trouble with the law OR addiction issues.

    Every one has their cross to bear (so to speak) though – and I do believe the Lord gives what we need to bear it.

    • Laurie says:

      I know people who’ve been on welfare for generations, and it’s just “what they do, what they’ve always done”. There’s not much thought given to the possibility that maybe there’s a better way. I’m not sure why that is. I remember as a kid thinking “I don’t ever want to live this way as an adult.”

  • Thank you for sharing your story! Very inspiring to see how your mother and you rose above.

    I think this is a super complicated topic and really depends on the individual because it comes down to mindset. Why are there people that get out of poverty and horrible conditions when others don’t? Why is it possible for some and not others? Everyone has their own story and struggles and it is possible to overcome no matter what the odds.

    • Laurie says:

      I think a lot of it is mindset, Fig. I’m actually writing a post about that next week, based on a question from this post. Tune in! 🙂

  • Wonderful story!
    Very inspiring, people often take things for granted and don’t even try to understand other people.

  • The Frugal Flirter says:

    Thanks for sharing – good for your mom! I think it’s all about actively looking for opportunities and taking charge of your situation in life! FF x

  • Mackenzie says:

    Wow Laurie, what a story! Thank you so much for sharing it with us…it made me tear up.

    Bless you and your family always 🙂

  • My mom has a similar story. She was doing well until her money mismanagement brought her back to where she was when she first got divorced. Unfortunately, that hole is even bigger now that she is disabled.

    • Laurie says:

      Oh no, Michelle! That is not good. Money mismanagement is a hard taskmaster. Hope your mom is able to get things back on track.

  • jim says:

    Wow! What a compelling story. It makes me hyperventilate just imagining being in that kind of position. But I’ll bet you that experience is going to serve you and yours well while you’re getting out of debt. Best of luck.

    • Laurie says:

      Jim, it really does motivate us. I think of how it must’ve been for my mom as a parent – I remember one day when we were out of food, she just cried and cried – I don’t ever want to imagine not being able to feed my babies, and it just makes me work all the harder to not spend money and pay this debt off.

  • Kay says:

    Thanks for sharing your mom’s story, she clearly has strength and determination. One thing I focus on here is this is an example of why many more women struggle with poverty than men. They may have left the workforce to raise kids and then they become a primary breadwinner and caregiver of the kids after divorce. Not an easy road – I know because I too was raised by a single mom. Your mom did an amazing job.

    All of us would benefit from formal education in grade and high school in the area of budgeting and family finances. Perhaps that could help some who find themselves struggling with unemployment for example.

  • deborah almaraz says:

    I hope you get to read this. Give your mom a big hug because of the sacrifices she made. They were for you kids. Thats what parents do. I was a single mom of one who worked two jobs paid a babysitter and a car payment to provide for my son. He has grown up to make me proud. I just turned 57 and sometimes think back to those days and realize it was all for a good reason.

    • Laurie says:

      Deborah, thank you so much for sharing your story. It’s determined moms (and dads) like you that make successful kids today. Great job on doing what you needed to do for your own son.

  • Thanks for sharing your mom’s story. She is a remarkably resilient woman!

    When I worked at Legal Aid, I worked with clients whose finances put them under the poverty guidelines. Most of my clients were disabled, mentally ill or developmentally delayed, and so they will always have challenges just to get through the day nevermind being able to improve their situation. Yet, they continued to surprise me with how resourceful they were to get through the day and get to doctor appointments and grocery shopping. It’s just that taking the next step ahead was beyond them (for most of them).

    • Laurie says:

      Thanks, Rebecca! Yes, a disability of some sort really can be a huge barrier – I know that from personal experience. Interesting that you found in your work at Legal Aid that so many continued to be resourceful in the face of adversity – that shows the power of the human spirit!

  • Awesome story Laurie. Your mom did have something special that others today don’t have. She had determination. Other than that, she was faced with the same environment that people are today, but most people that I talk to just make excuses for their lack of something. You can pull yourself out of something, but it requires work. My sister-in-law works in social services and she has spoken to many people that say they don’t look for jobs because it is easier to collect the check. That just irritates me to no end. Good for your mother!

    • Laurie says:

      Thanks so much, Grayson, and I think you’re right. Plus, the system was different back then. In talking to my mom, she said that back then, the system really encouraged you to move upward and onward. They’d keep in contact with you and push you to look for work if you were able. In the 70’s welfare was a temporary solution, but now many people view it as a permanent paycheck. That makes a difference too.

  • I think the biggest obstacle for people in poverty are their children. I know that sounds terrible, but between the cost of child care and the time it takes from job hunting, etc, I understand why people remain stuck in poverty. This is one of the reasons I strongly support more sex education and resources.

    • Laurie says:

      Kids can be an obstacle, or a motivation, depending on how people look at it. I think a large part of what motivated my mom (and what motivates us) to do better is wanting more for “the kids”. Obviously childcare can be a hindrance, but mom found when she did the research that there were people out there who could watch my brother – decent people – at a price she could afford.

  • Laurie, while I do think it’s possible for many people to dig out of their own holes, there is one very large sector of society that may never be able to, and that is folks with a criminal background. An 18-year-old who did something dumb like get caught selling drugs may not be the same person when he gets out of jail at the age of 28. But that record will follow him around and make it unlikely for him to get a job, unless he lives in an area that has agencies that purposely hire former felons for work (and that isn’t too common).

    Also consider that you and your siblings were good children. What if your mother didn’t have children that were willing to help around the house? What if you were going out there while your mom was gone all the time and doing drugs and partying? What if your mom had a severe mental illness? Everyone’s situation is different. I would love to think that obstacles like what your mother overcame are possible for most people. And I do know there are people that totally abuse the social service net we have in this country. But I feel there are some terrible situations for folks in this country that we can’t begin to understand.

    • Laurie says:

      I have to say, Tara, that all three of us kids did drugs and partied. We disobeyed mom, she’d ground us and we left anyway, all of that stuff. But she DISCIPLINED us when we did those things, even if that meant calling in the big guns like my dad or the law. Mom struggled with severe depression, and I did myself, for 7 straight years. Obviously being seriously disabled is different and not at all what I’m talking about, but so many people choose not to control their kids. They say, “What can I do? Little Johnny won’t obey me.”. Really? You are the parent. Take the upper hand, and call the authorities when you can’t control him. But things work out much better when you start this when they are small and don’t let them run the house when they are 3, 4 and 5 years old. I agree too that things are definitely tougher for those with a criminal background, but I do also personally know convicted criminals who have gotten out and gotten back on track. My whole point is that a little less pity and a little more encouragement and pushing people to do better might go a long, long way.

  • Thanks Laurie for sharing this insight to what your mom went through to get herself and her family out of poverty. This story really moved me – hats off to your mom for working so hard. She did what she had to do to feed her family. It must have been a tough time for everyone. These days, too many people live off welfare without trying to help themselves.

  • A topic near and dear to my heart! Thank you for sharing this very personal story. God bless your mom for working so hard and never giving up!

    I work with formerly homeless individuals who now live in supportive housing. From what I can tell “society” would label these people as outcasts, drug users and “crazies”. When I try to explain why I work with this population people often say ignorant things like “Well why can’t they just get a job and work like the rest of us.” What they don’t understand is poverty is cyclical and you have to believe that you can “break free”, or have have a a person or group of people who support your (many people don’t).

    I also try to explain that mental illness is just like physical illness. Depression is a chemical imbalance in your brain. You can’t fix a broken arm with your mind and you can’t just “will yourself” out of a depression.

    • Laurie says:

      SO true, KK. Having struggled with serious depression for 7 years, I can testify that it is horrible. Drive and determination is so much of success for these people, and I can’t say what makes some people have determination and some not. There are definitely lots of impoverished people who refuse to try, but there are also many who are doing their best to get up and out, in spite of the labels and discouragement society gives them. It’s a delicate and daunting task either way.

  • Seriously inspirational. You should be very proud of your mother. I don’t think her situation was necessarily unique, but she was. I think in America, with enough work and determination, anyone can achieve their financial goals.

    • Laurie says:

      The tools are definitely available, for sure. There are many different situations, as KK pointed out, but persistence can overcome many of them. Thanks, Ryan!

  • Isabella says:

    Your mom really worked the odds to raise her children! I think the big disadvantages today is the childcare card and the cost of housing. I know back in the “Old Days” (this would also include the 1970’s-1980’s), you could find some pretty inexpensive childcare. I myself watched a child a few hours a day for only one dollar/hour in 1978. That would be near IMPOSSIBLE today! It actually just wasn’t right how people took advantage of daycare providers in those days. “After all, you are home with your own children” was the standard reply.

    Now, it is treated like a business and childcare providers are paid what they deserve. My daughter paid $15,000/year for infant care at New Horizons. Children who are watched in private homes may have a smaller charge, but the teachers I teach with who put their kids in private homes are still paying hundreds of dollars each month. In fact, if they have two children, their teacher’s salary is pretty much eaten up until the kids start school. It takes two incomes to survive.

    If you are lucky, you might have a relative who can watch your child or children for very little, but in today’s world, daycare will pretty much eat up the salary of someone earning very little if they need it for young kids.

    Also, your Mom paid only $250/month for housing. Where is someone going to find that today for decent housing? Remember that real wages have not kept up with inflation. Yup, bootstrapping is hard today. I think there is a general lack of compassion for those stuck in poverty. A church I was in houses the homeless regularly, and if one talks to them you will see they are real people with real problems. Also, most of us are just a thin line away from catastrophe just as they were!

    • Laurie says:

      So true, Isabella! Yeah, there are churches here that house the homeless in the winter too, and it’s really hard to see, especially when there are kids involved. Regarding the housing payment, I remember my parents buying that place in 1975 for $25,000. Things are a tad different these days, aren’t they?

  • Ginger says:

    I do think it is different now a day. My grandmother was similar to your mother, and was on welfare after her divorce from my grandfather. I remember my mom mentioning that the training my grandmother got on welfare was no longer allowed under the new rules (Clinton’s). Some states still allow for people to get an education and get food stamps, but not all do. My daycare cost is four time the cost of my mortgage and a 1/3 of my husband and I’s combined budget.
    In many states, you watching your baby sibling would be illegal if you were younger than 15 or 16. Also, lots of things change state by state. Some are great about helping find work, some are horrible.
    I really think we need better education for young people on how to find a job though, many would not know how to do what your mom did. I think your mom is an inspiration.

    • Laurie says:

      Great points, Ginger. I agree with you about needing better education, not only regarding how to find a job, but more importantly, how to manage money properly. So many of the struggling families I know are struggling simply because they spend so much money on things they don’t need. That didn’t happen as much years and years ago. There wasn’t as much of that drive toward consumerism and materialism.

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