Like so many Americans over the last few years, I've found my economic/social standing reduced greatly. I won't say that I've ever been particularly well off, but the down turn in the country's economy has certainly hit me hard. In the past 5 years, I've been homeless for two months, been evicted three times, lost the best paying job I've ever had, and relocated from sunny Florida to Western New York in search of something better. This isn't about pity, this article is about looking at what it really means to be DIRT poor. The constant uphill battle that is merely surviving.
Income- Within a couple of weeks I was able to find employment at the local pizza shop. They schedule me for 15-25 hours per week at $9/hr. My girlfriend found a job at the local gas station making $7.25/hr for around 32 hours per week. Every couple of weeks, we make the rounds, reapply everywhere we can. So far, no luck. I would like nothing more than to find the opportunity to work hard and earn a decent living, but thus far no such opportunities have presented themselves.
Living arrangements- My girlfriend and I share a 600 sq foot 2 bedroom apartment with her father. We pay $650 per month in rent, and all utilities are included. Its two miles to the nearest grocery store and three miles to our jobs. The landlord spliced us in to his cable, and gave us the password to his wi-fi, or else we would have neither. It costs $2 per load of laundry.
Transportation- About a week after arriving in New York, my car catastrophically broke. I had been saving to finish paying it off, and ended up spending every penny I had saved trying to fix it. Finally, after a month and a half I had it finished, and had transportation again. A couple of weeks later, I got home from work and found the repo man waiting. Goodbye car. Now we walk those three miles to work. Walk those two miles to the grocery store. In western New York in the winter, that means I spent the last three months doing all that walking in various stages of blizzard. If there are other errands to be walked, it sometimes means we walk as much as 15 miles in a day. I average around 35 miles of walking per week, and have been doing so for the last 7 months. That works out to just under 1000 miles of walking in last 7 months.
Diet- You ever walk into a grocery store with $30 in your pocket and wonder "how can I feed three people for the next week off of this?" Coupons, coupons, coupons! Still never quite enough, we all go to bed hungry most days, and usually there are two days a week that I don't eat. At least it keeps the weight off, right?
Social life- Everything costs money. Therefor, social life is largely illusory. Every two weeks, we get to go to the bar next door and have two or three drinks each. Should we? No. But otherwise, we don't see much of our friends. Without that periodic break from the crushing weight of our meager reality, depression, insanity, frustration would be overwhelming.
Entertainment- Basic cable, yahtzee, and as of a week ago, the internet. A neighbor was throwing out 15 boxes of books that we picked up off the side of the road. So at least theres plenty of distractions.
Outlook- With spring coming, seasonal jobs will be opening up again. The possibility of finding secondary employment looks good on paper, but without transportation, finding another job and being able to make it to work will provide more difficulties. Bridges that can be crossed once we get that far. We hope. Until then, scramble, scramble, scramble. And above all else, never give up.