Sunday night documentary director Morgan Spurlock took me on a very depressing stroll down Memory Lane. On the premier of his FX television show 30 Days, he and his fiancee went to Columbus, Ohio to find out what it was like to live for 30 days on the income from minimum wage jobs.
It just so happens that I spent three years in Columbus, struggling to support myself as a substitute teacher and a temporary office worker. I even lived in an apartment building that looked exactly like the one Spurlock rented–a two-story brick box with a metal stairway and catwalk to get to the second floor. It always reminded me of a No-Tell Motel. I was stuck in it the whole time I lived in Columbus, because to move out I would have needed three times my rent payment (rent for the old place, rent for the new place plus one months' deposit) and I never had that much money at one time.
The show brought back all those horrible memories of the months when my paycheck didn’t cover the bills, along with the collection calls and the constant worry about what I would do if my car broke down or God forbid, I got sick with something treatable but not curable. Substitute teachers don't get health insurance. I used to say I was on the “Die Or Get Better Plan.”
Eventually, I took a part-time job at the Columbus Disaptch to make ends meet. Ends met, but I never got ahead. I was so tired, stressed out and burned out that I had no energy to look for a permanent teaching job either in Columbus or in the nicer suburbs of Upper Arlington and Dublin. When I wasn’t working, I was crashing.
On one of the lowest days I came home to find a message on my answering machine from a private welfare agency. If I qualified for ADFC, the man said, I could get their free healthcare, which included taxi rides to the doctor. Here I was working so hard to support myself and if I'd just get pregnant and go on welfare, I could have health care coverage. What a country!
I gave up on Columbus and teaching, moved back in with my parents, got a real job in customer service with GE Capital, found a nice apartment I really liked and finally got to enjoy life because of a steady income and health care benefits.
I was lucky. I was able to escape subsistence wage hell because I had family willing to provide me with a place to stay until I got back on my feet financially. And I was even luckier to have avoided serious illness during the time I had no health insurance.
But there are millions of people out there doing honest work for not a whole lot of money. Minimum wage has stayed at $5.15. Here in Wilmington, most of the jobs I would qualify for pay around $8.00 an hour. After taxes, daycare and gas, half of it’s gone. You can’t support a child on that kind of money. But people are doing it. Or trying to.
The working poor deserve health care. We live in one of the richest countries in the world. Why can’t we take care of the people who are doing their level best to take care of themselves?
By the way, if you’re interested in helping out the people who help the Columbus people in need, send a check to:
WESTSIDE FREE STORE
3030 Sullivant Avenue 43204
Give someone a hand-up.