Yesterday I had the privilege to hear author Barbara Morrison speak about her memoir: Innocent: Confessions of a Welfare Mother. It was eye-opening and inspirational. Ms. Morrison had a college education and prior work experience, yet due to a series of circumstances she found herself at twenty-four, divorced, abandoned by her husband, disowned by her parents, pregnant, with an eighteen month old and no job prospects. She couldn't cover the cost of childcare, food, rent, clothing, transportation and so was forced to make the "choiceless" choice- receive welfare. She talked about the challenges welfare recipients face and the misunderstanding of the system.
Yes, her situation was extremely difficult and in her talk she alluded to it. I am sure that there were many dark days and nights for her. Yet I was struck by her matter of fact explanations, her generosity of spirit towards those who did her harm and her focus on the positive of her experience. She discovered and experienced a true community in the poor neighborhood with the other welfare mothers where she lived. She was surprised to discover such kindness that if one didn't have enough food stamps to make it to the end of the month, someone in the community would share. If a person in the community had a job interview, all the members would help provide decent "interview" clothing as no one had a complete ensemble. If one was sick, someone in the community would watch her children until she got better.
There is a sense that she doesn't take her current life situation for granted. As she states, so many people are living from paycheck to paycheck. All it takes is an accident, health issue or job layoff and they too would have to make the "choiceless" choice of becoming a welfare recipient. She is grateful that every April 15th she has the privilege to pay taxes knowing that she can share her good fortune with others. Sure the system might have its flaws but overall we are fortunate to live in a country where the systems relatively work.
She was a product of the welfare system and the reason for the safety net. Some people just need a little help to get going. From the good fortune of legislature timing and kindness of others, she was able to receive a grant that enabled her to learn a new skill and get a job with upward mobility.
She speaks about the stereotypes and judgements we all make of each other. "Lazy welfare mothers, hard hearted social workers, uncaring parents." Her story once again underscores our need need to put ourselves in others' shoes for a while to see what their lives are like before we make snap comments.
One way we can practice empathy is to take the food stamp challenge. Can you live for one week on the same daily monetary allotment for food that a welfare recipient receives? (approximately $4 per person per day) In our household there are two of us- $8 a day x 7 days = $56 for the week for groceries. If you use any food that is already in your household, subtract that amount from your daily amount.
What is your feeling about the welfare system? Have you ever experienced a "handout"? How did that make you feel? Have you ever had to live paycheck to paycheck? Would you consider trying the food stamp challenge? If you try it, please comment.