Thursday, May 3, 2012

Am I Supposed to Look Poor? Income Levels Should Have Uniforms.

I saw a status on Facebook the other day that said something to the effect, "If you're on welfare, how can you  afford a smartphone?".  Which made me think of a whole image problem I've had for a while.

The question is... if you're, shall we say... uh underprivileged, or uh living below the poverty line, or dare I say it "poor"... oh hell, if you're broke-ass broke... are you obliged to look the part?

Are you being a poser if you try to look wealthy when you're poor?  Or to think of it another way, if you are surviving with government assistance are you supposed to look the part?  And what is the part?  Dirty ratty clothes, a pair of brokedown Toughskin jeans, a pair of warn out generic K-Mart sneakers, messy hair, dirty finger nails?  When you go to the Department of Social Services do you demand to see the "poor and huddled masses"?  "Excuse me Miss, I'm here to inspect your dreggs of society to make sure they are poor and huddled."

Here's why I bring this up.  I know I'm like a broken record, but there was a time I was broke.  Right now, I'm mid range broke, but there was a time I was lowest of the low broke.  Long story short, ex-husband split and stopped paying support, I lost my job, unemployment got held up for like 6 weeks, no savings, got evicted, yada yada.  I had absolutely no income for 6 or 8 weeks with 3 kids.  I entered hot mess land.   I was cleaning friends toilets and writing real estate appraisal reports and ad copy for $10 or $20 here and there (I kid you not) for money to eat, while I looked for a full time gig.  So, I went to social services, and that of course took a few weeks to get through the red tape, I think about 6 or 8 weeks later foodstamps and heat assistance kicked in.

My background, grew up in a family with 2 parents who were Penn State grads, my Dad is a WWII veteran, both parents were white collar, we had belonged to a country club at one time, we travelled, eventually my parents owned a second home in AZ, all 6 of us kids went to college, some advance degrees, I went to college in Maine for 4 years.  Bottom line, basically I'm well bred and educated, I ain't no slouch.  Soooo...

When I had several trips to the DSS, I was thinking "how should I look?".  Should I look like a Wal-Mart shoper?  A dumpster diver? I remember judging people in the past and thinking, "you're in the welfare office, why are you wearing Baby Phat with your hair and nails all done talking on your smartphone?".  We've all done it.  Shut it!  No!  You know you have.  I was still trying to work and going on interviews so I would be dressed and ready for work, coiffed hair and makeup.  But I felt like I should go in there with no make up, hair in ponytail, sweatpants, kids in just a diaper, smoking and yelling at my kids about kicking their asses.



My Catholic guilt is actually palable, isn't it?  You can see the visions of self flagellation rising from my head, can't you?

My ex in-laws used to judge me all the time because I presented myself well, they thought I was taking the mountain of money small stipend that their son was giving me for child support and spending it all on myself.  HA!  My kids even defended me, they know I never spend anything on myself.  They have to prod me to do it.  I have gone a year at a time without buying a stitch of clothing for myself, only to be forced to because I wore out the crotch in my only good pair of pants or something.  I am just frugal and have enough dignity to try and keep myself presentable.  My in-laws refused to believe that even though I looked fabulous, I was only wearing a 5 year old $79 coat from JC Penney, a $10 3 year old Calvin Klein sweater from Marshall's, a $15 6 year old tweed skirt from Marshall's, 5 year old $19 BCBG shoes from Marshall's.  And I simply dried and straightened my own hair, tastefully put on makeup, and painted my own nails with a 2 year old bottle of OPI nail polish, and wore the only necklace and earrings I owned which were stylish pearls given to me by their son 15 years earlier.  Is that so wrong?

By being properly dressed or wearing something with a label and having my nails done and checking my email on my smartphone that was a free upgrade at contract renewal time and is the only phone I have now, no home phone... I'm sure I have been labeled by strangers as a welfare fraud case a few times.

Some people think you should be "real" and look the part of whatever your income is.  I felt bad for making myself look like a million bucks when I only had 59 cents to my name.  It reminded me of that old Carol Burnett skit when she plays Scarlett O'Hara and her house had burnt down but she comes to the door in a dress made from the curtains with the rod still in it.  That's me... sans rod.  I guess I'm more like the movie.  But I am kind of quirky, I would wear the rod.  OK, nevermind.

I do have to admit that I feel really guilty when I go into Wegmans wearing fabulous heels and a dress, hair and nails done and I pay with foodstamps.  But again, did my own hair and nails, clothes and shoes were either from Target or Marshall's and a few years old. 

I won't be on foodstamps forever.  I do work.  A lot.  But unfortunately for having 3 kids, my household size to income ratio is still below the poverty level.  And I won't be as brazen as Old Dirty Bastard of the Wu Tang Clan and go on MTV and ride in a limo to get my welfare check.  As I get higher paying and more frequent writing jobs, I'll be done with government assistance, but for now I need it.  Now, had my ex paid his child support, I wouldn't need assistance.  I didn't sign up to be a single parent, so I must keep plugging along to get to a level wear I can provide as if I were 2 parents.

So, I just ask that the next time you see someone coming out of DSS or paying with foodstamps at the store and they are well groomed and dressed properly... don't be so quick to judge.  We all need help from time to time.  Don't be hatin'...


27 comments:

  1. I never even notice when people pay with food stamps. Hell, I don't even know what food stamps look like. So I would never give anyone the stink eye for using them to buy their groceries, no matter how they were dressed.

    Plus I assume that most people on assistance are in an emergency situation. Their lives have dramatically changed. It's not like they don't still have the clothes they had from when times were good. My friend had three kids under 3 when her life completely fell apart and she was left as a single mother with no child support. She had to go on assistance temporarily. And she still looked good because that's what she had to wear in her closet. You make a good point, though, for people who haven't thought about it.

    Though I hate that people would be judgmental. It is hubris to think we would never "let" that happen ourselves. All sorts of tragedies occur and no one expected it or wanted it to happen.

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  2. Exactly Mandy. But we always knew you were enlightened. :) Yes, we did have these things before I needed emergency assistance, they didn't get thrown out because I suddenly became poor. lol

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  3. I wear some nice brand clothes, my kids do too. People give me dirty looks when I use WIC checks. My little secret....The kids clothes are gifts from relatives and I buy my clothes at consignment shops such as Plato's Closet. Yes, I may be wearing a Ed Hardy t-shirt, but I only paid $8 for it. I actually had to unfriend someone I have known for most of my life on Facebook for speaking poorly of people using assistance. She didn't know I used a form of assistance. I told her off first of course so maybe she would think about the situation next time.

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    1. Thank you MamaBennie! We broke moms with dignity need to band together! Thanking you for speaking up. :)

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  4. I love this. I love, love, LOVE this. Perception is everything? Yup, it is, sometimes. The worse part, us changing because of what we perceive as other people are maybe perceiving... it's illogical and counterproductive. Nobody knows what the other person's life is like, without walking a few miles in their old BCBG shoes.

    That said, if you managed to look like a million bucks with $123 for clothes and shoes, I am totally shopping with you from now on!

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    1. Yes, perception, exactly. And oh my God, I'm sorry but I pride myself on my champion bargain shopping skills! Marshalls, TJ Maxx, Macy's Clearance, even Goodwill sells new closeout and overstock items from clothing stores. I refuse to pay full retail even if I was rich. :) Come with?!

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  5. Perspective. That says it all.
    I'm glad I've never had to walk in your BCBG's but lady, you've done all right and the best you could in given circumstance - certainly better than I would have done -
    Thanks for sharing.

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    1. Thanks, love! Just hope I don't break my ankle in my BCBG's. ;)

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    2. Amen on the fibula busting.

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  6. I really like this post. And, you're right... we've judged someone. Thank you, for sharing.

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  7. Well I agree to a certain extent. I have no issue with people looking nice and presentable. However I worked for quite awhile in a technical school and often would strike up conversations with some of the prospective students. They would then go on and on about shopping, having their hair and nails done at salons, etc. This was while checking their e-mail on smartphones and telling me they have no income.

    I don't judge others unfairly- only those who actually admit that they know how to play the system. Which is sad, because there are many out there who can use the help and won't abuse it. Regardless of how you dress and look!

    I found your blog on the blogger comment club-- thanks for letting me visit.

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    1. Thank you so much for stopping by! I hope you come back! Of course there are abuses, and that pisses me off. It's about priorities. Some folks think it's better to spend their aid on material crap instead of food or supplies. This blog I wrote relates to that http://madgemadigan.blogspot.com/2012/01/i-love-your-new-prada-bag-but-sorry-to.html

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  8. First of all, just because someone shops at Kmart it doesn't make them slobs. I know people who shop at Kmart that aren't broke and they don't dress like slobs. If Kmart is your only option, they may not be the best clothes, but you can still look presentable. Kmart isn't the only option for people on Welfare though, there are lots of nice things out there that are affordable to people on government assitance. Target has lots of cute stuff and thrift stores are awesome. You can find all kinds of cool stuff there. This morning I was looking at Amazon and I saw lots of nice things for under $10. It may not be H&M, but there are options.

    There are people on Welfare who have no intention of getting off of it, they want the government to take care of them. There are others who are using it the way they are suppose to, those people don't stay on it forever and they use that money on things they need and if they have to shop at Kmart they do it and they accept it.

    I think her question was very valid. I've often wondered that myself.

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  9. Oops got cut off. I just wanted to tell you, I wasn't being snippy or anything. I went back and read it and it might have come off that way, but it wasn't meant to. I was just making a point.

    Sarah
    http://skylarinc.blogspot.com/

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    1. Oh no, that's ok, didn't think you were being snippy. And I've shopped at Target, KMart, Wal-Mart, whatever I've had to do. I'm glad you stopped by!

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  10. This is a great topic of conversation. I never really thought about because I went to high school then went to college, bought a house, and had a decent paying job, I never had to think about it.

    Then things changed. I lost the house, the husband, and well moved out West. And money wasn't around so freely anymore. Once you've been broke, it gives you an entirely new perspective on the world I think, but if you ever live in a world where it's a non issue, it's hard to think in a different mentality, etc.

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    1. Oh man, I'm so sorry you had to go through that. It makes us stronger though, doesn't it? lol Thanks for stopping!

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  11. lots of people need a helping hand in life. it is nothing to be ashamed of, although many times shame seems to go hand-in-hand with getting help. it shouldn't! so many people can be judgmental and think awful things of the poor -- like they are lazy, uneducated, on drugs, etc. many judgments are not true. who likes to be judged?! it sucks! we all hate it, so why do we do it?! i am guilty of being judgmental, too, and i need to knock it off when that urge comes about.

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    1. Well, it's hard to not feel ashamed when there are certain people of a certain political party that think anyone on assistance is a scammer or lazy scumbag.

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  12. Hi there, I'll admit in my younger yuppie days, I could be judgmental about food stampers too. But being broke myself, more than once, has a way of softening that perception of others. Agree with Jamie too, folks that have never been broke just don't get it.

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    1. Yes indeedy doo. Thanks for stopping by!

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  13. This is a fabulous post. On a hundred levels. But I will say regarding that Smartphone line, as an educator, I used to get so frustrated when students would say they couldn't afford their books/pens/supplies but they would have a brand new iPhone. Well, then I realized they were using it to write their papers, conduct research, respond to college related emails, work related emails, as a phone to talk to their bosses... you get my point. A Smart phone is a portable computer. And for some people, that is what they have in lieu of a computer. These days, they are almost a necessity. They have a GPS, hold music, photographs, and perform all the other functions I mentioned. So NOW I make sure my students can get ebook copies of their text books (which are usually less expensive). You have a great writers' voice. Where is your Wegmans? I'm in Rochester.

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  14. Okay, you are in Roch? We need to meet. And talk blogs. You pick the Wegmans. ;-)

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    1. Thank you for the compliment. Yes, I am in Rochester, and I think you might know my boyfriend, he's a member at ICC. :) Small world, huh? lol

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