Not Just Another Welfare Queen

I did not plan to become a parent at sixteen and it has not been easy, emotionally or financially, but I do not have any regrets. Being a mother is the greatest role in my life. People have no idea how difficult and all-consuming being a parent is, particularly, a single, poor one. The right wing and the media have been in cahoots for decades in their efforts to stigmatize African American single Butler mothers as lazy, unstable and responsible for passing on a culture of poverty from one generation to the next and those stereotypes are not true. What is true is that African American mothers in this country have juggled work and children for decades before it became socially acceptable, sometime neglecting their own physical and mental health in order to keep their children clothed, housed and fed. Although I do not have material wealth to spend on my children, I love them fiercely and am doing my best to raise them to be strong, productive members of society. As a mother, that is the least I can do.

If I did not have children, there is no way I would have dealt with the welfare system as long as I did. But when you have children, a mother has to make sacrifices, sometimes swallowing her pride and going to the public aid office to apply for food stamps and cash assistance. By signing the Personal Responsibility contract in return for public assistance, a welfare recipient in essence signs her rights to being an adult away. Recipients must attend job training classes in which individuals must work for their cash. Obtaining an education is not a factor and I found this out the hard way.

I have always used welfare as a revolving unemployment office: on welfare when not working, no welfare when working. I had worked in the clerical/administrative field during the late nineties, during the Clinton administration, and jobs in my field were plentiful. From 1992 to 1998, I did temp work and it was great! As soon as one position ended, I would go to another, often at a higher pay. In 1998, I found full-time employment and that job lasted for a year but I had to leave due to a single mother’s worst fear: babysitting problems. After that, I went back to temporary employment from March of 2000 to October of 2000. I was fired from that job because I was pregnant and the temporary agency I worked for did not want put up with someone who would have to take off days for prenatal appointments– another obstacle single mothers have to put up with in the working world.

By that time, our current President was in office and the economic system had totally changed. My days of making between 9 and 12 dollars an hour (big money for welfare recipients) were a done deal. The only job I could find between 2000 and 2002 was a part-time administrative assistant position. The pay rate was not bad, but I only worked twenty-five hours per week and there were no benefits because it was a part-time position. In addition, the recruiter that hired me lied about my job duties. I was under the impression that I would be using my word processing skills and would be busy. What I was actually hired for was to be a fax checker/relief receptionist. For six hour a day, I would check the two fax machines in the office and make copies of the material that came in. I also distributed mail into the mailboxes of everyone in the company. At the end of the week, I would throw away the junk mail and mail out anything important.

Checking those faxes and dumping that mail really got on my nerves. Why couldn’t those lazy, overpaid executive check their own mail? And the mail! It amazed me that people would come to work everyday and did not check their mailboxes. These executives had the audacity to complain when the boxes go full. If you could notice that your mailbox was full, what was so hard about taking the mail out? I actually threw away magazines out of spite. It was a waste of postage and time. No wonder that so many corporation end up filing for bankruptcy with all the waste that goes on. The only good thing about the job was the reception part.

After working there a week, I was told that my job was a dead end situation, meaning there was no opportunity for advancement. Even if I worked like a slave, there would be no raises, no growth, nada. All of the other administrative positions were filled and those women were not going anywhere. Any job posting were for people who had degrees and I did not have one. The people at my company, particularly the women, made me feel like I was nothing because I did not have a degree. I was truly on the low end of the company totem pole. When I asked for extra work, I would be given papers to shuffle. How boring is that? It was no wonder that my attitude towards this job started to stink very badly.