I am now a senior but was a low wage worker all my adult life. On these low wages I raised 4 children and we were homeless several times even though I worked full time. I also fought and won the right to attend college but then while attending college full time, also had to work as well as manage my family. At one time after taking 25 credits for the quarter and working full time, I got so sick I had a death experience in my bed while fighting off the flu. The only reason I came back was from the sheer force of will as I knew that beside me in this bed were my children who desperately needed me and would have been horrified to find me dead.
Then at the end of all this sacrifice after getting two degrees, the Great Recession hit and because of my “inexperience” at the career I had chosen I was not able to find work in my field, plus by that time I had become an “older woman” who faced even more discrimination because of my age. During all this low wage work and school, I spoke and worked toward social justice and was many times laughed off the stage for speaking out about the suffering I saw coming to those who laughed. They believed it should only happen to those like me, they were sure in spite of the warnings they heard, it would never happen to them. Sadly they are not laughing anymore …
I do not believe I am unique, I believe my experience is like hundreds of thousands of other people struggling to make ends meet. Now I am witnessing my grown children struggle in the same way to raise their families and it breaks my heart because I wanted so much more for the next generation. But I believe they have it even harder than I did because now the safety net I had as a young adult is almost gone, tattered and in pieces. Their cupboards are bare and their children’s shoes are falling apart, outgrown clothes are worn because that is all they have.
Now I have realized that I made a terrible mistake that so many others HAVE to make as well. All the time I was working for those wage that would not even pay the rent, I was missing my children’s lives, and was not able to give the guidance and love they needed. Instead I was trying to please impossible expectations from my society as well as the sometimes unbearable work conditions I worked under; dictatorial and sometimes lecherous bosses, the impossible hours. For the rest of my life I will have to bear the injuries from the horrible work conditions that leave my body in constant pain.
Meanwhile one child of mine was molested in childcare and later on he was raped as a teen by an adult woman,. The others were ignored, disregarded, even beaten on several occasions. One even tied to a chair for 3 hours because he could not eat his lunch, they were bullied in school, and all these things and more they faced alone without my being able to protect or speak for them because I had to “do something” working for a wage instead of “doing nothing” while caring for them. They were neglected and sometimes abused while in paid care. They were abandoned by me, exhausted from the work I did. Through all this, they were left to their own devices. Because Mom was off working her butt off for everyone else for little or nothing instead of attending to the things all children need from their mom. While they are now grown and coming to a more adult perspective, they could not find footing for many lost years.
This encouraged abandonment of children is because these children are raised without any adult family member who loves them that would give them the guidance they need. No adult is given the support to do this unpaid work in order to properly nurture the next generation. They will be the ones who will care for us when we no longer can care for ourselves. Worse, families today are caught in the same spider’s web of infinite struggle and will not be able to give much help to their elders or spouses because they are back to the same treacherous wages and conditions our own WOBBLY relatives fought and died to change.
Google this sometime:” home alone and AARP” to see something that will stun you: The AARP has done a study about the cost of unpaid care giving, Out of this data about unpaid labor, they estimate that to replace this unpaid work with institutions it would cost over $450 BILLION DOLLARS A YEAR, almost 1/2 Trillion per year so (mostly) women could go out there and say, “Do you want fries with that?” Labor stats also say that (most)y women lose on the average of $400,000 over a work lifetime because of the need for the 24/7 unpaid care of a loved one, not only children but their elders and spouses as well.
Social Security calls these years of 24/7 unpaid care “zero years”. This means that there will be no way for these unpaid caregivers, who saved their communities $MILLION of dollars, they will never be able to benefit one iota from all they gave. Indeed while caring for their loved ones 24/7, they are forced to live off the income of their loved ones who depend upon this unpaid labor. When that income is gone, used up for the expensive costs and after these loved ones die or grow up, these middle aged women are left with nothing. You’d be amazed at how many of these older women who are unable to get a job much less a job that will support them, now live in their cars. Because after all is said and done there was no support left for them for all that work. Instead they are scolded and told they “did not work” when in fact they worked a 24/7 week with no vacation, no sick leave, no benefits, no retirement income, no pay. All given freely while caring for and replacing the astronomical costs of the sick as well as raising the next generation who will fight in our wars, pay our Social Security (if we are lucky enough to get it), and run our infrastructures …
Because of the suffering I see with the lack of a safety net or any support that almost all but the richest face for what is “traditional women’s work”, I am an activist for low income people, including the men who have also made those sacrifices and face the same age discrimination if they have done this work. Because I know first hand about what that lack of support did to my family, I will speak for the rest of my life around that impact from the lack of that support for unpaid care giving that I should have been doing but was told the lies that this hard unpaid work, well, it was “doing nothing”. I will do this because I hate to see anyone else suffer the way my family did.
As a senior I now have the time and experience to speak out about the future of others who also do not get this support and to fight for this support to become a right. Now I am a board member of a group fighting for a better safety net called POWER whose link I supply with my comment. This 501C3 organization, who could never afford to hire anyone themselves, operates on a budget that would not pay a DSHS manager. POWER volunteers live within the same limitations as the people they help, yet while struggling to survive do 10 X the work of that one DSHS manager.
So yes I will dance through my tears and my fast approaching old age. I will dance with my heart because I know that I will not only be dancing with those around the world, but with those long gone who also spoke truth to power. I know good is possible because some I knew personally as well as witnessed those leaders who dared to give their lives for true positive change in the world. I will dance with joy for the struggles that have met with victory. I will dance to the words and deeds of those amazing laughing faces of many cultures, religions, and the beautiful ethnic diversity of those I have known and loved. Their heartbroken smiles are forever burning in my heart, branded there through the blood sweat and tears from my own life that we share in common.
I will dance most of all to the teaching by the great Mahatma Gandhi who once said about the 4 stages the powerless will face if they stand together and peacefully but forcefully speak None of these stages are easy to bear but if all 4 of them are borne in concert it can cause great change for many; ” First they ignore you. Then they ridicule you. Then they hurt you. THEN YOU WIN …”
Love, Cat from Seattle