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  • margaretfmadigan

Am I Supposed to Look Poor? Income Levels Should Have Uniforms.

*Another one of my greatest hits, transferring over, I think Mitt Romney should read this*

I saw a status on Facebook the other day that said something to the effect, “If you’re on welfare, how can you  afford a smartphone?”.  Which made me think of a whole image problem I’ve had for a while.The question is… if you’re, shall we say… uh underprivileged, or uh living below the poverty line, or dare I say it “poor”… oh hell, if you’re broke-ass broke… are you obliged to look the part?

Are you being a poser if you try to look not poor when you’re poor?  Or to think of it another way, if you are surviving with government assistance are you supposed to look the part?  And what is the part?  Dirty ratty clothes, a pair of brokedown Toughskin jeans, a pair of warn out generic K-Mart sneakers, messy hair, dirty finger nails?  When you go to the Department of Social Services do you demand to see the “poor and huddled masses”?  “Excuse me Miss, I’m here to inspect your dreggs of society to make sure they are poor and huddled.”

Here’s why I bring this up.  I know I’m like a broken record, but there was a time I was broke.  Right now, I’m mid range broke, but there was a time I was lowest of the low broke.  Long story short, ex-husband split and stopped paying support, I lost my job, unemployment got held up for like 6 weeks, no savings, got evicted, yada yada.  I had absolutely no income for 6 or 8 weeks with 3 kids.  I entered hot mess land.   I was cleaning friends toilets and writing real estate appraisal reports and ad copy for $10 or $20 here and there (I kid you not) for money to eat, while I looked for a full time gig.  So, I went to social services, and that of course took a few weeks to get through the red tape, I think about 6 or 8 weeks later foodstamps and heat assistance kicked in.

My background, grew up in a family with 2 parents who were Penn State grads, my Dad is a WWII veteran, both parents were white collar, we had belonged to a country club at one time, we travelled, eventually my parents owned a second home in AZ, all 6 of us kids went to college, some advance degrees, I went to college in Maine for 4 years.  Bottom line, basically I come from good stock and I’m educated, I ain’t no slouch.  Soooo…

When I had several trips to the DSS, I was thinking “how should I look?”.  Should I look like a Wal-Mart shoper?  A dumpster diver? I remember judging people in the past and thinking, “you’re in the welfare office, why are you wearing Baby Phat with your hair and nails all done talking on your smartphone?”.  We’ve all done it.  Shut it!  No!  You know you have.  I was still trying to work and going on interviews so I would be dressed and ready for work, coiffed hair and makeup.  But I felt like I should go in there with no make up, hair in ponytail, sweatpants, kids in just a diaper, smoking and yelling at my kids about kicking their asses.

My Catholic guilt is actually palable, isn’t it?  You can see the visions of self flagellation rising from my head, can’t you?

My ex in-laws used to judge me all the time because I presented myself well, they thought I was taking the mountain of money that their son was giving me for child support and spending it all on myself.  HA!  My kids even defended me, they know I never spend anything on myself.  They have to prod me to do it.  I have gone a year at a time without buying a stitch of clothing for myself, only to be forced to because I wore out the crotch in my only good pair of pants or something.  I am just frugal and have enough dignity to try and keep myself presentable.  My in-laws refused to believe that even though I looked fabulous, I was only wearing a 5 year old $79 coat from JC Penney, a $10 3 year old Calvin Klein sweater from Marshall’s, a $15 6 year old tweed skirt from Marshall’s, 5 year old $19 BCBG shoes from Marshall’s.  And I simply dried and straightened my own hair, tastefully put on makeup, and painted my own nails with a 2 year old bottle of OPI nail polish, and wore the only necklace and earrings I owned which were stylish pearls given to me by their son 15 years earlier.  Is that so wrong?

By being properly dressed or wearing something with a label and having my nails done and checking my email on my smartphone that was a free upgrade at contract renewal time and is the only phone I have now, no home phone… I’m sure I have been labeled by strangers as a welfare fraud case a few times.

Some people think you should be “real” and look the part of whatever your income is.  I felt bad for making myself look like a million bucks when I only had 59 cents to my name.  It reminded me of that old Carol Burnett skit when she plays Scarlett O’Hara and her house had burnt down but she comes to the door in a dress made from the curtains with the rod still in it.  That’s me… sans rod.  I guess I’m more like the movie.  But I am kind of quirky, I would wear the rod.  OK, nevermind.

I do have to admit that I feel really guilty when I go into Wegmans wearing fabulous heels and a dress, hair and nails done and I pay with foodstamps.  But again, did my own hair and nails, clothes and shoes were either from Target or Marshall’s and a few years old.

I won’t be on foodstamps forever.  I do work.  A lot.  But unfortunately for having 3 kids, my household size to income ratio is still below the poverty level.  And I won’t be as brazen as Old Dirty Bastard of the Wu Tang Clan and go on MTV and ride in a limo to get my welfare check.  As I get higher paying and more frequent writing jobs, I’ll be done with government assistance, but for now I need it.  Now, had my ex paid his child support, I wouldn’t need assistance.  I didn’t sign up to be a single parent, so I must keep plugging along to get to a level wear I can provide as if I were 2 parents.

So, I just ask that the next time you see someone coming out of DSS or paying with foodstamps at the store and they are well groomed and dressed properly… don’t be so quick to judge.  We all need help from time to time.  Don’t be hatin’…

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