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Life / Society

The Poverty Line

The Poverty Line

I am poor. I have food, I have clothing, I have shelter. I have a job. I just financed a car. I have a kitten, I donate to the ACLU and I am still paying off my student loans and a credit card. On paper it all looks ok, but I know the truth. I am fighting every day for these things.

Let’s say I lost my job tomorrow or I was injured and became unable to work. I don’t have enough saved to last me a week. Sure, my cupboards have some cans of beans and veggies so I wouldn’t starve right away, but I wouldn’t be able to pay any of my bills. And bills don’t care if I can’t work.

This is the case for so many people that I know. We are walking this tightrope made of the thinnest fishing line. One unexpected expense drops us further into the pit of debt. It could send us plummeting. I am always playing catchup. I choose to pay this bill a week early because I can afford it and I pay that bill late because I have to wait for another paycheck.

And I am not underemployed. I am overemployed! I work 6 days a week for a total of between 42 and 70 hours. I spent the last year and a half saving all the money I could to put a down payment on a car, so I could get to work to pay for the car. I know this is the way many of us are living and it’s hard.

I have a college degree. I work in my field at one of the most prestigious institutions for my craft in the country. I work hard and I make a decent wage and I can’t get ahead. Something has to change. I need a wider net. I need a stronger plank. I, like so many Americans, need help.

I don’t know if things are different now than they used to be. It seems like everyone I know who owns a house or a condo bought it with money they borrowed from their parents. Has that always been the case? Is the only solution to go back in time and tell my Dad to bet on the Bears in 1986? Without the help of the older generation, how do people get ahead?

I’m going to keep doing the only thing I can. I’m going to keep working and save as much as I can. I probably won’t ever get to have my own property, but maybe I’ll be able to afford that trip to Japan my boyfriend and I dream of for our honeymoon. I’ll have to be very careful not to lose my balance on the tightrope that is poverty along the way. Most likely for the rest of my life. I hope I don’t fall. I hope my net holds if I do.

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I am a theater professional living and working in Chicago. I enjoy painting, Nintendo, my boyfriend and our cat Tallulah.


  1. Jess, I read your piece on Thred and can identify as in our early marriage we walked that tightrope. We brought our first child home from the hospital on our first anniversary and that was not planned. As a result of her pregnancy, my wife was terminated from her job the first day she wore maternity clothes as there was no protection against that in 1961. No one would hire a visually pregnant woman and my salary was low as I was in a starter position that paid slightly above the minimum wage of the time and we literally lived paycheck to paycheck. At the times when I was at my wits end, I would go to the Scriptures to Matthew 6:25 and read through to the end of that chapter as Matthew 6:33 was the text for our wedding sermon. “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” It was there that I found comfort and hope. God has blessed us throughout our marriage. We have had a wonderful life; seen more and done more things than we ever imagined. We are now comfortably retired but those verses continue to be of comfort to us.

    I note that you are a theatre professional. If you were aware of the low level of pay for such positions at the time you studied for your degree, then you must be dedicated to that profession. I wish you well and pray that you will move forward to the higher levels of your profession and I would recommend all of the Scriptures as something that can give you comfort and peace of mind and I certainly would recommend Matthew 6.

    • Hello Larry! I was aware that I wouldn’t be making 70k a year and that’s fine with me. I would rather be happy in my work then wealthy. I tried to leave my profession and work in an office and I thought about suicide every day. I was miserable. Beyond miserable. It’s fine by me that I won’t ever own a fancy car and I probably won’t go on its of expensive vacations but there is a great inequality with the distribution of wealth in our country. We need the arts in communities (see my post about working in the arts for more explanation!) Just as we need garbage collectors, restaurant workers, bike messengers, and school teachers. If we raised the minimum wage across the country, or forgave student loan debt more readily, or lowered the cost of health care it would make a huge difference to people like me.

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