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Millions of Americans live from paycheck to paycheck while chasing ever elusive American Dream. In the synopsis for the film “Waging a Living” (American Documentary Inc.), it is stated, “If you work full time, you should not be poor…” Statistics show that one in every four working Americans works in low end jobs. These jobs do not sustain even the most common lifestyle. Single parents are being hit mostly by economic meltdowns. Majority of these parents are trapped in the cycle of poverty. They have to work extra hard to support their families. Families with both parents have an advantage, since each contributes towards the overall upkeep of the family. However, there are exceptional cases of single parents who have risen above all odds and gotten out of poverty. This essay looks at the challenges the single parents face, their struggle to provide normal life for their families and the way they cope with the situation. It also examines the ways the governmental policies can be formulated to assist struggling Americans in achieving their dreams. Being stuck in the poverty cycle is not a condemnation or a death sentence. The examples of single parents who have made it to the top from humble beginnings attest to that fact. Theirs is a story of how determination, focus and hard work can transform the ordinary American family’s status from hopelessness to self-dependence.
The Effect of Poverty on Single Parent Families
Through Rong Weisberg’s documentary, “Waging a Living” four different workers are profiled. Despite their hard work, they do not seem to make ends meet. They are employed full time, yet they keep “hustling backwards.” Single women struggling to feed their families have become the new face of the working poor. According to the film description as posted on PBS, “only 37 percent of single mothers receive child support, and that support averages just $1,331 per year…” This means that the cost of living doubles or even triples the earnings made by single women. There are more expenses than can be met by the little wages. This is a nursing assistant well profiled by Jean Reynolds, who has three children to support including one with cancer. Her eldest cancer-stricken daughter has four kids of her own. Jean earns a paltry $11 per hour. Parents sharing the same fate as Jean have a huge responsibility struggling to meet household expenses and escalating medical costs. It is amazing how such parents manage to go to work every day considering that deep inside they are mourning.
The delicate balance of give and take has an effect on the net take home pay that single parents earn. Some are forced to take multiple jobs and enroll in evening studies to earn a qualification that will possibly lead to a promotion, higher salary or better job. Many go ahead and achieve all this, but at a heavy price. Take the case of Barbara Brooks in “Waging a Living.” After working hard in her studies she gets a promotion and salary increase. This leads to loss of government aid. Though this is many people’s dream, the financial effects are devastating. The cycle repeats itself after she earns an associate degree. The loss of government aid therefore pushes such parents to try and obtain better qualifications. This puts a lot of pressure on them as they have to balance between work, school and family.
Obstacles Faced in the Quest for a Better Life
In this essay, I have carefully selected the profiles of single mothers who illustrate the struggle of single parents against poverty in a most appropriate way. They are all hardworking parents. None wants to be given government aid. Each dreams of a better life. These parents strongest desire is to give their children a better life than now. The more they put effort, the more poverty still clings to them. With a good education, single parents contend that they will change their families. In “Angela Whitiker’s Climb,” Isabel Wilkerson narrates the story of Angela Whitiker, the lady whose fate lays in a nursing exam she was about to sit for. She had to pass this test. Angela represents another category of single parents who have to put up with a life of crime on a daily basis. A huge task of bringing up five children fathered by different men is lying upon her shoulders. She has vowed to put aside her past and forge ahead.
After attaining the dream of a better life, single parent families are unfortunately sucked up in the miasma of their success. With a good house, car, children attending good schools and all the perks that come with hard work, the cycle of living from paycheck to paycheck repeats itself. The allure of a good life does little to help in the shaping of their children’s lives. To such parents, success comes late in life. The focus was centered so much on attaining a good education and getting a well paid job. This happens at the expense of family time which adversely affects their growth and development. As they grow up, they get into crime and soon start doing drugs. Relatives, who see these parents as cash cows start seeking favors. The hither to poor hardworking woman is now the darling of everyone. Such demands put a lot of pressure on the single parents who have to make up for their past lives.
Rong Weisberg sums up his documentary with the words: "In making Waging a Living, I wanted viewers to understand what it's like to work hard, play by the rule and still not be able to support a family… It's easy to take for granted the janitors and security guards in the offices where we work, the waiters and bus boys in the restaurants where we eat, and the nurses and caregivers in the facilities where we place our children and elderly. I wanted to bring viewers inside the daily grind of the nameless people we encounter every day who struggle to survive from paycheck to paycheck."
Having looked at the above examples, it is quite clear that: harder work does not necessarily grant you a good life; strong governmental policies need to be formulated to arrest the situation of people in the lower pecking order, whose lives are dominated by work. According to Nazneen, it seems like women in third world countries are better supported than their US counterparts (65). There is little or no recourse for the “working poor” citizens who have to endure abuse and hardship; the poor continue to be trapped in low paying jobs with no way out.
There is a need for other intervention to rescue the majority of single parents trapped by poverty. The irony is that they are people who work very hard to try and earn a decent life. They deserve a much better lifestyle. Without proper solutions for this problem, the American Dream will continue to be forever elusive for many generations to come.