Economic Downturn is More of the Same for Two Women Living in Poverty

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The deepening recession brings additional challenges to many Ohio residents, but for many others, the combination of higher costs and lower incomes is more of the same.

Just as some in the middle class are struggling to avoid falling into poverty, two Central Ohio women living in poverty are determined to raise their children with middle class values.

38-year-old Madelynn May is a single mother with a 14-year-old daughter. She says her life has been on an economic downturn for quite some time.

May says she has not worked since January, 2000. She is disabled and receives income from Social Security. Along with child support, May says she receives about $1400 per month, “if it all comes.” Lynn notes Job and Family Services, “they consider that living high on the hog. We get $10 a month in food stamps. You just can’t get ahead.”

May and 34-year-old Peggy Wachenschwanz are graduates of a class at Mental Health America of Licking County called: “Getting Ahead in a Just-Gettin’-By World,” based on a book by Philip DeVol. Wachenschwanz is married with twin seven-year-old daughters. She says she and her husband are “what’s considered the working poor.”

She says they are fortunate her husband found a job, but the job is located out of state. He works in Florida for three weeks then comes home for five days. His income is too high to qualify for any assistance, but they see far less than he makes.

“We made a mistake a few years ago,” says Wachenschwanz, “we took out a loan from American General. They are now garnishing his employment 25%. Along with taxes, that’s 40% he’s losing. All that we have is health insurance, and they’re about to take that. Because in order for us to get buy, my husband has to work many hours. He’s working 70 hours a week, and he’s bringing home less than $500 a week.”

Wachenschwanz grew up in a low income family and says children feel the parents’ stress. She observes, people in poverty are “always in survival mode.” They struggle to pay bills and cannot think about planning for the future, putting together a nest egg in case of emergencies.

Wachenschwanz and May both say they want to raise their children with higher expectations of themselves. May describes this as middle class values and rules instead of a poverty mindset. She gives as an example her daughter.

“It would never occur to her not to go to college,’ says May. She says those living in poverty view college as only for rich people. The poverty mindset dictates one just graduate and get a job that pays the bills. May emphasizes job, not a career. She says it would not occur to her daughter “not to have a career she will absolutely love. I raised her to strive for happiness, financial stability. You have to work for it, but it’s there.”

Next month, May returns to college to pursue an associate’s degree in social work. She admits she’s “scared to death,” but says her daughter Katley says she’ll “do great.”

She’s got all this confidence,” says May. “How can I not do great when I’ve got her behind me? I think it goes both ways. She’s gonna do great, too.”