The face of poverty has been changing to one that encompasses people with middle class roots.There are still those who have fallen into poverty because of drug and alcohol abuse, but they are now joined by college instructors with master’s degrees, people who had steady jobs and stay-at-home mothers. This series of personal profiles look at people who live at the poverty level and how they got there.
Mary, an 84-year-old Stark County woman, survived the Great Depression and earned a master’s degree in education. Now, she struggles on her meager Social Security checks. Each day she walks from her subsidized apartment to the local YWCA for the free meals offered there.
Five years. That’s how long Amanda Huddleston has given herself.
Five years to get out of Section 8 housing. Five years to be off government aid and Food Stamps. Five years to finish her college degree and begin a real career.
Donna Jarvis always had a decent job and never worked paycheck to paycheck. That was before she and her husband divorced and she lost her job at a call center. She went through her savings and her 401K to pay bills. In an effort to get back into the workforce, she enrolled in a medical assistant program and was ready to graduate when she got into car accident. Now, she has school loans and medical bills to add to her financial woes. But she also has a job as a medical assistant at a skilled-care facility. It pays a little more than minimum wage.
Anthony Larson moved back to Akron to take care of his ill mother. In doing so, he left a $40,000-a-year job managing a restaurant in Dallas. He was doing OK, working as a chef, when he tore his rotator cuff in April. Without that job and the health benefits to help manage his diabetes, he was in trouble. Having to ask for help wasn’t something he was used to doing. He soon realized there were others just like him, husbands and wives with college degrees who were suddenly jobless. Like them, he found pride wasn’t a trait he could afford.
Sally Criss went from being a stay-at-home mother with three children, a husband, house and car, to a divorcee who subsists on a $1,280-a-month job working at a thrift store. She is living below the poverty level and can’t find a way out. “We went from middle class to the B-rate rabble that people stereotype.”
Karen Tohm, 46, used to bake pies and cakes for her family. Now, she bakes them to survive. After injuring her back and getting divorced, she became depressed and got into drugs, including crack cocaine. When her aunt and uncle, both reverends, became her guardians, she got her life back on track. She lives in a basement apartment at their home and subsists on the $190 she earns with her baking.
Jimmy Ceballos, 55, never got a high school diploma or a college degree. He worked as a neighborhood handyman and auto mechanic. However, his reliance on drugs led to a life on the streets. One night, he nearly died after the abandoned house he was sleeping in caught fire from his burn barrel. Since then, he has found help friends willing to give him odd jobs. In addition to work, they clean his clothes and feed him. He feels lucky. “I am alive and have great friends. I don’t need anything else.”
Bamuamba Kabeya is an immigrant who opposes illegal immigration and is politically conservative – not something you would expect from someone living in a homeless shelter. However, Kabeya, a native of the Democratic Republic of Congo, is an engineering graduate, who is studying statistics at the University of Akron. Instead of abusing “the system,” he is using it to better himself. His ultimate goal is to start a tutoring business.
Heidrun Hultgern, an art history professor, came from Germany hoping to find the American Dream. She had it for a time, but now at age 70, finds herself in a nightmare. She lost her part-time teaching job at Kent State University – a job that allowed her to live somewhat securely. Now, after mortgage, car payments and utility bills, she has $150 a month to live on. With the insulin she needs to handle her diabetes costing $103, she finds she must make a choice between food and health.