Jim Ott's Blog

This blog is a collection of columns I've written for Bay Area News Group newspapers serving the East San Francisco Bay region.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Unemployed, but hopeful

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move here four years ago because I found a nice town home under $1,000 a month to rent,” she said, asking that her name not be published.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.”


she said...

i can relate to this story on a couple levels (divorced/renting/efforts to find work which will support staying in the tri-valley where it feels safe for my family)

and am so upset by the quiet racism/ignorance directed toward this mom and her children

it's fear based i think.. ignorance and fear. glad to read she is rising above it and role modeling strength of character for her children

and i realize too, that no human, in any financial/economic/social group, etc, is free from adversity.

adversity comes in just as many shapes and sizes as people

and always helpful/inspiring to learn from people who endure their crisis situations with honesty, hope and grace (add humor)

i think again of the cinderella man movie (left such an impression on me) -how the hard times did not change this man's character, or how he raised his children..

quite inspiring

and worth remembering too.. things can and do turn around with prayer, effort and time

my love/prayers for this beautiful/courageous mom, her children and everyone who faces crisis situations

and my gratitude to you ren man, for shedding light on and through this woman's story

she represents countless others

"to faith!"

and "to safe neighborhoods for all" love, ~s.

Anonymous said...

I respect this woman for moving her children to a safer town and for raising them both on her own. I deplore the racism she is experiencing and I have no respect for the people who think the color of their skin or how much they earn could possible make anyone a better person than a single mother who is doing everything she can to keep her family safe and put a roof over their head, food on the table and make sure they get the education that all children in this country deserve.

I grew up in Pleasanton and always thought maybe I would move back. However, I now live in Martinez, I'm caucasian married to a caucasian man with 2 adopted bi-racial children. I have come to realize over the past several yrs. that Pleasanton is not the quaint little town I grew up in anymore. It is full of judging materialistic people who for the majority aren't very nice and feel that the big house, luxury car, status handbag and botox make them superior to those who are not caught up in all the appearances and superficial belongings. I've have met more compassionate, giving and genuine people out in this area than what Pleasanton now has to offer for neighbors.

My caucasian, educated and successful husband was laid off from his six figure income and we are now wondering how we will ever make ends meet. We may have to apply for Medi-cal and food stamps to survive. So, to all those people who are looking down on someone for trying to keep her family together anyway possible, shouldn't ever judge people by the color of their skin or what they do for a living because it can all change overnight no matter what color your skin is or where you come from.

I wish the mother of the 2 twin boys all the luck and hope she finds a job where they will respect her for who she is....a single mother who is doing what she needs to do to feed and shelter her children.

Count your blessings because life changes in these hard economic times regardless of race, income or education.

Jim Ott said...

Thanks for reading and for your comments. Racism and discrimination in terms of socio-economic status are sad and terrible. I think humans are hard-wired from our caveman days to fear those who don't look like us, and these impulses are just underscored when someone from another race or different economic level crosses us in some manner. We need to strive every day to set aside those reactions, and treat one another with respect and dignity.

So sorry to read about your views of people in Pleasanton. I know you are right, but I also know many people in our town who care deeply for others, regardless of race or social standing.

We'd welcome you back home if you're ever able to come back.