She’s a 41-year-old single mother with 7-year-old twin boys, and she’s been unemployed for nearly four months.
While she fondly remembers growing up in a safe and stable neighborhood in the Oakland Hills near Knowland Park, today she lives in the Tri-Valley.
“I chose to move here four years ago because I found a nice town home under $1,000 a month to rent,” she said, asking that her name not be published. “I like it here because it’s safe and the schools are better.”
Though she earns some money working a few hours a week for her uncle, a tax accountant, she’s hasn’t found a full-time job after nearly four months of looking, even with the help of a local employment agency. Her last job was with the Contra Costa County Department of Employment and Human Services.
“I’ve never gone this long without finding a job,” she said.
To make matters worse, she’s having trouble sorting out whether she can draw unemployment.
“The state agency that pays unemployment wants state disability to pay and they want unemployment to pay,” she said. “Meanwhile, I had to apply for an appeal and go on aid just so we can make rent.”
In addition to job hunting, she makes productive use of her time by taking classes to improve her education and work skills.
Sadly, some people in her community don’t seem to respect her right to live where she chooses.
“I’m embarrassed when people find out we’re struggling to make ends meet,” she said. “Living in an upper class town has it pros and cons.” The pros are obvious, such as good schools, safer neighborhoods, clean streets, and parks. But the downside is what she calls “quiet racism and being stereotyped, which I hate with a passion,” she said, referring to the fact that she is African-American. Both happen most often at her boys’ school.
“Some parents who know I’m on welfare stare at me with malice that loudly says ‘we do not want your kind here.’”
Surprisingly, she even finds some resistance where she worships on Sundays.
“While many people in my church are supportive and friendly, I receive the same judgmental stares from some because they know I’m divorced,” she said. “I just struggle with the few who are doing this to my children and me.”
She says if people would just engage her in a friendly conversation, they would discover she’s a good person.
“I still smile and wish them a good day because in some ways I can’t worry about their opinions,” she said. “I especially want church to be a safe place for my boys, where they are judged only by their character.”
Speaking of her boys, one of her greatest challenges is shopping with her twins. On a recent excursion for basic supplies, she had to contend with her sons’ relentless requests for an item that caught their attention: a T-shirt that comes with a toy.
“My boys begged me with their big puppy dog eyes for the shirt, but I just couldn’t afford it,” she said. “I hate having to break their little hearts, especially since they’ve been so good at conserving things such as food, toothpaste and soap. I hate moments like these.”
She says the most difficult part of being unemployed is when she’s around family and friends who have jobs and don’t realize how fortunate they are. “They complain about their pay and how they’re one paycheck from the street,” she said. “But their bills are paid and they have food and new clothing.”
Yet in spite of the adversity, this woman, who speaks confidently with hope and a ready smile, has words of encouragement for her young boys, and perhaps for herself: “I tell them I know it’s difficult being poor, but when mommy lands another job and pays a few bills current, I promise them we’ll have a special shopping day to make up for what we missed.”