She works hard for the money (Guest Post: Camille Landry)

camille_landryCamille Landry is a writer, activist, and advocate for social justice who lives in Oklahoma City. This is part of her “Neglected Oklahoma” series,  focused on Oklahomans who find themselves in a position where the basic necessities of life are hard to come by. The people whose stories we tell are real people and their stories are true. Names have been changed to protect their privacy.

Darcy Johnson is 31 years old. She has an 11-year-old son and is raising her 10-year-old nephew.

Darcy spent a couple of semesters at a community college. Then she found out she was pregnant. The baby’s father promised to stick by her and help raise the child. “That didn’t pan out so well,” Darcy said. “After about a year, he just left.”

She worked full time and attended classes throughout her pregnancy but quit school after her son was born. ”My son was in daycare but when I was called in to work a later shift, I’d have to leave him with my mom or my sister because the daycare closed at 6.” She stopped attending classes.

Two years ago she took in her nephew, whose parents “just couldn’t get their act together.”  The state gives her $89/month in TANF (Temporary Assistance to Needy Families) payments.  “$89 doesn’t go far but I can’t bear to see him in foster care. I did what I had to do.”

She got a job at Walmart near her home, thinking she could save on gas money and maybe get an employee discount. At first Darcy worked as many hours as she could but soon discovered that it actually made things worse.  She needs food stamps (Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program or SNAP), daycare assistance and medical coverage for her boys.  “But if I earn $1 over the threshold, the food stamps got reduced and I have to pay more for daycare and risked losing the kids’ medical. Working hard actually hurt me in the long run.  The next month my benefits would be reduced – but the overtime isn’t regular so I never know what I’m going to earn.”

Darcy lives a frugal life. “We don’t have cable TV. I do my own hair and nails. Our clothes come from Walmart and the thrift store and garage sales. I don’t smoke. I don’t go out. A big deal for me and my boys is going fishing. I buy lunch meat and bread, make a jug of Kool-Aid and get some chips and apples. We fish all day and then fry up our catch for dinner.” It hurt when a DHS worker criticized her spending habits. “The ‘designer purse’ I was carrying was a knockoff that I bought for $5 from a garage sale.”

Life is hard, especially for the children. Darcy worries about them being outside and getting into trouble when she’s not home. “My son plays basketball at school. I had to buy him Nikes to play in. My nephew wants to join the orchestra at school but I can’t afford an instrument.” Darcy knows that sports, music and such can help a student get into college, get a scholarship. “But where do I get the money to pay for these things? And how do I live if I have to take time off from work to take them there?”

Last month disaster struck. “My kids got the flu. I took time off work to stay home with them. No sooner than they got better, I got sick.” Darcy has no medical insurance. The flu led to pneumonia. She was sick for two weeks. By then her sick leave was used up. The additional time off but it was without pay. “And I have an ER bill for over $3,000.”

Just when she thought things couldn’t get worse, her car died.  She didn’t have money for repairs or for a new car. She realized that getting a loan from one of the used car lots around town would result in a bill she couldn’t pay.

LandryDarcy gets rides from coworkers when she can, or calls a cab.  She received a warning at work for tardiness. “Cab drivers don’t like to come to my neighborhood. Sometimes I have to wait two hours for a taxi.” Between the lost time from work and the extra money for cabs, she couldn’t pay her electric bill, is late on her rent, and is afraid of getting fired.

“I want to finish school. I’d like to move to a better school district. I want my boys to have a better life than I have. But I don’t see that happening, the way things are going.”

In 2011, 36,000 Oklahomans earned minimum wage of $7.25 per hour while 20,000 earned less, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.   Oklahoma’s proportion of minimum-wage or below workers ranks # 11 nationwide.

Walmart, the third-highest revenue grossing corporation in the world, has been labeled by Good Jobs First as the #1 driver behind the growing use of food stamps in the US, with as many as 80 percent of Walmart workers on food stamps in some states.

The opinions stated above are not necessarily those of OK Policy, its staff, or its board. This blog is a venue to help promote the discussion of ideas from various points of view and we invite your comments and contributions. To see our guidelines for blog submissions, click here.

9 thoughts on “She works hard for the money (Guest Post: Camille Landry)

  1. Is is just me or does it seem corrupt that Walmart (the 3rd highest grossing company in the world) is labeled by Good Jobs First as the #1 driver behind the growing use of food in the US with 80% of their workers on food stamps? The 3rd highest grossing company of all companies should be able to afford to pay their employees a living wage that would prevent them from needing food stamps. Maybe I have things backwards.

    1. You are exactly right! They should also provide some kind of medical insurance. I rarely go into a WalMart for these and many other reasons. WM is bleeding Americans in many, many ways!

    2. First, in our country, a business should pay whatever it chooses. This is not North Korea, Iran, or Communist China. There is, however such a thing as corporate ethics, which includes paying a wage that people with little choice (because of poor choices they made in life)need to exist. We are our brothers’ keeper, yet in a capitalistic society, that which makes our land of freedom and opportunity the greatest and most propserous nation int he world, there is a disparity. Some might argue that a private buisness or corporation like Walmart, is under no obligation to pay for the mistakes of individuals who are promiscuous, drop out of school, or who make bad decisions that lead them to depend on society for food stamps, medicaid, and a higher wage than to what they are entitled. There is some reasonability to that. To continue the cycle of dependence by forcing a company to pay a certain wage, provide insurance, or supply the worker with any benefits at all, is bad for the country as a whole. And each generation continues to ignore the best interest in our nation, in favor of enabling those who will not or cannot provide for themselves (excluding handicapped or individuals debilitated not by their own fault). Ethically, though, and also in the best interest of our country, businesses are obligated to help those struggling by providing them the means to better themselves, if financial reasonable for that company. It improves our workforce, the campany’s image, and serves the Lord in beneficent deeds.

  2. It is not just Walmart. This will continue and get WORSE if the Obama crud goes full firce and minimum wage goes up.

  3. What do you suppose will happen when millions of U.S. workers who receive less than a living wage out of the billions in profits they are helping owners amass realize they and their loved ones deserve at least that? I understand that if the minimum wage had been yoked with the Consumer Price Index, it would now be about $22.00/hr. Those who oppose “redistribution of wealth” by requiring a living wage for workers–and/or who oppose taxing those who have more than they need to flourish so millions can have at least what they need to flourish–ignore a major cause of the French and Russian Revolutions.

    1. Well, Charles, who is to say who has “more than they need?” Most communist countries and dictatorships have an elite body that decides that. This is America, and to penalize anyone for being successful is very unwise and discouraging to those who might otherwise aspire to become wealthy. Wealth is NOT a bad thing except to those who are not smart enough, ambitious enough, who have sworn a vow of poverty, or believe in penalizing the rich to give to the poor. THAT, my friend, is why we are in the financial mess we’re in. That also includes gifting to other countries what we ourselves are in short supply of; especially to countries that hate us. This seems to be the current administration’s philosophy, and it is killing us as a nation. Your understand of Eurpopean revolutions is somewhat skewed. It was a movement for transfer of power, not wealth distribution that motivated revolt. And the outcome is as I’ve outlined. Those who are too myopic to understand the ramifications of “redistribution of wealth” as proposed by our current administration, will inevitably go down with the ship and not even realize it’s happening until their feet are wet.

  4. I have to also say, that the woman in the article struggling to make ends meet should not be kicked while down, as they say. The best solution would be to utilize what resources are available to better her condition so that she doesn’t pass along to her children, poverty and dependence. If Walmart or any other organization is able to assist with a scholarship, child care assistance, etc. that would enable her to rise above her current situation, then that would be desirable. Heck, companies that do that have a wonderful opportunity to capitalize on ther good works and promote their image in the community. If, however, Walmart does offer assistance and the candidate refuses help, making excuses for putting forth the effort to take advanatage of the opportunity, then the onus is NOT on society to continue its demands for unreasonable entitlements, nor should it be forced to accommodate the “spread the wealth” advocates. It is a tough world out there, and those of us who have worked hard, didn’t always make the right decisions but who’ve risen above hardships and disadvantage, can attest to the fact that this nation is a land of opportunity, and our system should not be tampered with by those who have no clue of the reality of socialism or a dictatorship.

  5. “At first Darcy worked as many hours as she could but soon discovered that it actually made things worse. She needs food stamps (Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program or SNAP), daycare assistance and medical coverage for her boys. “But if I earn $1 over the threshold, the food stamps got reduced and I have to pay more for daycare and risked losing the kids’ medical. Working hard actually hurt me in the long run.”
    The welfare reform of the 1990’s stated goal was to help adults receiving cash benefits move off of welfare and move back into the work force, but automatic assistance reduction and cut offs create barriers to achieving that goal. Means testing beneficiaries on a monthly basis prevents those receiving benefits from accruing the necessary assets to move up the economic ladder and off government assistance programs. Earning limits that kept Darcy from taking advantage of overtime opportunities that could have been saved and used to helped weather the difficult circumstances that she found herself in latter on are not possible under the current program. The amount people need to earn to be self-sufficient is greater than what the cutoff of assistance is and that gap between the two is the barrier to self-sufficiency.
    As for increasing the minimum wage, opponents always talk about the added cost to business that this would create, but always forget to account for the other factors that change when wages increase and that is consumer spending goes up. The increase in purchasing power leads to increase in demand offsetting the pressure to cut the labor supply, now will there be minor short term fluctuations, certainly, but weigh that against the long term benefit of providing millions of people a dignified standard of living.

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