When you think of someone who’s part of America’s “working poor”, you may picture a high school or college dropout. It’s generally assumed that the higher the educational attainment, the more likely someone will find steady and well-paying work. But even for those who do “everything right” that’s no guarantee of prosperity.
As our “Working Poor” series by ideastream’s Brian Bull continues, we hear the story of Bridget Gibbons, a Kent State graduate trying to escape her parent’s basement.
“My name is Bridget Gibbons. I’m 30 years old, and living in my parents’ basement in West Park in Cleveland (laughs) They’ve been generous enough to let me live here while I’m going back to school. It’s been okay.
“I moved back here a little more than a year ago, with my cat. My lease was up at my apartment. I was going back to school, I knew I wasn’t going to have any money coming in. I don’t get any financial aid, except for work study which is my only income. All my money goes to health insurance and my cell phone, so I have no money to give anyone for bills or rent, or anything.
“I have a bachelor’s degree in English from Kent State. I went to University of Akron school of law for about a year and a half. I left that, I could just see the writing on the wall that was not going to be good economically, lawyers are out of work in record numbers all over the country. So I was very happy with that decision. I’m current enrolled in Tri-C’s Nuclear Medicine program.
“It’s surprisingly hard to find part-time work or low-wage work when you have a degree.
“I applied at McDonalds, I applied at Walgreens…I applied at all these different minimum wage jobs, and they would laugh at me. `You have a bachelor’s degree, why are you here? You’re just going to quit!’
“The last job I had was working in a call center, it was fine for a couple years, then after the 2008 recession, there was kinda this attitude of more work from less people. People weren’t getting bonuses, people weren’t getting raises, even though the company was making record profits some of those years.
“I didn’t feel like there was any dignity to my job. I had seen a lot of waste, incompetence, inefficiency, and I would tell people about these things. `Oh, I think there’s a better way to do this. Here’s my idea for it.’ And I would just be told, `That’s not a priority for the company.’
“My last day was day they called me in, and told me to get my stuff because of my bad attitude. I lost my job, and I was denied unemployment.
“It was a very strange prospect, to go out and actually have to apply for food stamps. People there were looking at me in certain way. Like, `Why are you here? You look different, you look middle class.’ I went in there and qualified for $15 a month. And so all told, I’m bringing in a little under $300 a month.
“My current job I actually really love. I work at Tri-C, I’ve been working there since I went back full-time as a supplemental instruction leader. It’s kind of a fancy way of saying student tutor.
(SOUND OF INTERACTION)
MALE STUDENT: “Where did you get the `18' from?”
GIBBONS: “18, 18 inches, because it’s one and a half feet…”
“I’m about $25,000 in debt. I’m lucky because all my debt is education related, I don’t have credit card debt on top of my education. I can’t work more because I’m a full-time student. If I was taking more time away from school, I don’t think I’d get as good as grades, and my grades are important to me.
“In the next 5 to 10 years, I’d like to find myself out of my parents’ basement. That is my most important and most cherished goal. The whole reason I’m doing this is so I never have to ask anyone for money ever again.
(SOUND OF GARAGE DOOR OPENING)
“Let’s go out to the lovely garage, where all my stuff gets to live while me and the cat live in the basement. It’s been in there for over a year…
“Soon I will be back on my own, all this stuff is going to go somewhere else, it’s not going to be here forever. And I know that I’m lucky that I do have that situation, that I do have the privilege of knowing this is not going to be the rest of my life! (laughs).