new poorOn the surface, I am like so many of us out there. You would never know that I am poor. I like to think of it as “the hidden poor” – we don’t meet the stereotype, and therefore the image of the statistic is skewed. I could be your next door neighbor: I have a masters degree. I have traveled around the world twice, and back again once. I speak two languages.

My financial motto has always been, “It is not how much you earn, but how much you save.” Up until March of 2011, I had a job that paid above the median. I had health insurance, a 401k that I funded to the max, a savings account, and a scuba diving addiction that required regular trips to warmer climes. I’ve never had credit card debt. Ever. I own my own home, and I bought it in 2004 with no financial help from anyone. (It is now worth less than half – possibly 1/3 – of what I paid for it and what I still owe on it.)

And now I am poor. I am “the new poor” – overeducated, formerly middle class, the long term unemployed turned severely underemployed.

I am so poor, in fact, that I recently learned my income is not quite 50% of the poverty line. Think about that: I earn less than half of what is considered a subsistence level of income.

In August, I took a good hard look at my finances and opportunities. I knew that we would be ok for some time to come (thanks to my dwindling savings and 401k), but I also knew that the future makes no promises or guarantees. I needed more security, some sort of way to extend my ability to provide for my family. I needed help to make sure the bottom of the spiral remained distant and fuzzy. I needed a safety line.

And so I made the decision to go on the dole.

I didn’t do it right away. In fact, I didn’t go bare my soul to the state until a few days before Thanksgiving. It was too shaming, you know? The self-loathing was, and is, horrific. Thoughts of, “What kind of a mother are you, anyway?” go through my head constantly. I look in the mirror and hate myself for being dependent, for needing help to provide for my beloved daughter.

Yet, I know that it is only temporary. I know that we will get through this. And I know that part of being a parent is being determined to provide. The subsidies do provide, and I am so grateful for them: I have health insurance now, and an appointment to fix a toothache that has been around since July. I have become a coupon + sales maniac, and make sure that that the $205 a month in food stamps stretches at least 50% farther. I make yogurt from the milk given to my daughter through the WIC program. And I am hopeful that the federal workforce development program I entered will give an employer an incentive to hire me. Soon. Please Spaghetti Monster, let it be soon.

And truth be told, I am happier than I have ever been. In some ways, I am grateful for this time: I may not be fully employed, but I get to spend time with my daughter and close friends who are also un/underemployed. I have the time and energy to be a resource to friends in need. I can volunteer in my community. My city provides a lot of free activities, so we are always entertained. I have mad budgeting skills now.

While my financial/job situation may be unpleasant, my life is filled with love and laughter. My daughter is cherished, and that’s really what is important: The love we all share and the lessons we learn along our respective journeys. The rest will resolve itself in time.

times like theseAbout the guest blogger:
Shannon writes at Musings of a Fat Chick and tweets @FatChick
I am Shannon, aka Fat Chick. I blog sometimes, craft a lot, and parent joyfully. I live in The Greatest City in the World (aka Chicago) and am a teacher (finally!). I am job hunting, crocheting and loving my daughter, all while being poor. Thanks, economy!

photo credit: Rebecca Lader via photopin cc

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