I did some calculations today. For us, a family of four, to be able to survive with just the very basics…shelter, food, utilities, gas, without any assistance from other sources other than a job, I would need to make $14/hour. I am also a single mom with no support from fathers of my kids in any shape or form. So I would need to get before/afterschool care for at least 1 of my school aged children and preschool for my 4-year-old if I were to be working full-time, which adds about another $800-1000/month, which brings my hourly needed rate up to about $19. Add on to that my student loans, as I do have a college education, which if paid on the monthly schedule, would bring my hourly pay needs to $21. Again, this is just for basics. It does not include any extra for entertainment, or even things such as internet.

It is unlikely that I could get a job making that much right now, with the economy, my skill set, and the fact that I have been out of the workforce for a while, going to school and raising kids, etc. So even if I were to get a full-time job, I would still need some form of extra assistance. I would then be working all the time, trying to make about the same I do now, while my kids are away from me all the time, my daughter is put in school where she was miserable and fading away, and I wouldn’t be getting ahead, as the more your income goes up, even by a bit, the less assistance you qualify for. This is just the very tip of an iceberg that runs very deep under the water, as the whole system we have for assisting those in need, and the whole monetary system in general, is a trap, and a game that can never really be won by those that happen to be on the bottom rung of the financial/economic ladder. Trying to climb over an iceberg on a tiny ladder that has not been stabilized can be a very slippery and difficult journey.

So what are my options for climbing the ladder? My college education isn’t enough to get me a very well-paying job, so I could perhaps go back to school, however the cost of more student loans, on top of the extreme amount I owe, and the degree I could get, would not guarantee me a job that would pay enough. I am a few credits away from an elementary teaching degree, however teacher’s salaries here are not much, without a master’s degree or beyond, and I would be working in a system that I feel is bringing up kids to be slaves to the economy, trying to get up the ladder, and not gaining skills needed to create new ladders and other ways of climbing (I will put more on my educational system views in another post, I suppose:) I would also have to put my daughter back in school, a place where she was not learning well at all, and be away from my kids for most of the time, so that I could try to have a “career” that pays the bills and may slowly get me to work up the ladder. Or I could just go get a job, making probably about $12/hour at the most, and continue getting some assistance, but never getting ahead on the ladder, and working my days away while my kids are somewhere else.

So here I am, trying to get over the iceberg. At this point, I have chosen to try to go a different route, only because the ladder has been too slippery for me and I keep falling. I am tired. I am still going to get past the iceberg, possibly, but I am hoping I will find a way around, or at least have some good ice climbing boots so I won’t need the ladder;) I am also not going to worry about getting to the top, and just slow down and enjoy my time on the journey.  I do depend on assistance from the state, such as food stamps and housing, and I feel very blessed that I am able to receive this support from my community. I get the rest of my needs met through generous family and friends who do what they can, as well as trade, barter, sell old clothing etc., and I have a very small felting business, that is my passion and love and creative outlet. This also allows me to be home with my girls, truly being with them, and getting to watch them learn and grow (also please see my last post Defining Wealth.) I hope to be able to expand this more in the future, and I know I will expand into more things, as everything is changing all the time, but right now, this is what they need, and I think I need right now as well. I am not lazy. I am not trying to get government assistance so that I do not have to work. Most people on assistance are the same way. It is just a struggle that has become a vicious cycle, and many of us are realizing that there is no way to get ahead, so we might as well try to play the game, in whatever way we can, and hopefully have some enjoyment, as it is a game:)

Most people understand where I’m coming from, and those that don’t, may not ever, unless they walk in my shoes I suppose, but I just wanted to share this as a perspective from someone who is considered on the bottom rung of the ladder. There is a lot of media, opinions, and comments going around about government assistance, and cuts to food stamps, etc. This certainly affects me, but also makes me see even more the need to create something different. Possibly a new economic model, or completely different way of living. There are so many ideas out there. I am a big fan of the gift economy, as it is a way of allowing needs to be met while also validating a persons self, as they give from their own heart, not because they are told to do so, or there is some sort of required exchange. In many ways I already live in a gift economy sort of way. I feel that if people were allowed to give freely, and be free to practice their talents and produce things they love, that something entirely beautiful would be created, and I think it would flow much more naturally than this crazy game of icebergs and ladders we’ve got going on now. There are so many different ways of doing things, now is the time to create something new:)

Below are some great links about our system of money and the idea of a gift economy:

“Money and Life” is fascinating documentary about our money system

“Sacred Economics”