What It's Like to Grow Up Poor

What does it even mean to grow up poor? Most people imagine scraping by for food, living in shacks or broken down homes, but that isn’t always the case. I never truly wanted for anything growing up because I had a mother and step father who loved me and worked their a**es off to make sure I didn’t, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t hard. Things like prom dresses or back-to-school shopping, in your average household, are just part of the routine. In my house, it means skipping the car insurance bill or lying to the credit card company about why the payment is three months late. When the house phone rings in a "normal" family, you just answer it and say hello. In my family, you turn the ringer off so the bill collectors will just leave a message on the machine we haven’t checked since 2009.
 
 
Grocery shopping, for instance, is something you do every couple of weeks, picking up things here and there. In my family, we scrape by on the last jar of Ragu and spaghetti noodles until food stamps come at the first of the month. And boy let me tell you, the looks you get at a grocery for buying any kind of “junk” food with a Food Stamp card are too great. Because people who “rely on the government” don’t deserve to eat anything other than bread and milk, of course. God forbid a mother buy her children a candy bar at the register. And when the line is held up for an extra five minutes because you forgot to mention it was an EBT card, not debit, be assured that the line of “patient” people behind you will be nothing but understanding and not judge your family at all. Especially not when you didn’t realize how much your total was going to be, and you have to spend yet another five minutes digging groceries out of your cart that you don’t “really” need. The world is a non-judgmental place, right?
 
Shopping for clothes was always a joy. Do I buy one shirt at a brand name store like Forever 21 or American Eagle that’ll cost me thirty dollars but buy me acceptance, or do I buy five shirts at Wal-Mart but face the subjection of my peers at school if I forget to cut out the tags? 
 
Regardless of these every day struggles, I never went hungry. I always had clothes on my back, and a bed to sleep in. Sometimes the cell phones got turned off, or the cable canceled our service, but somehow we always managed to be okay. Things like phones and TV were luxuries, and my family knew how good we had it. Sure, being a teenage girl, I had my complaints when I couldn’t afford the gas to drive to town and see my friends, but most days, I was paying in quarters I found underneath the mat on the floor of the one vehicle my family shared between four of us just to drive the hour home from school. Some days, the worst days, I had to call in at school and pretend I was sick because my paycheck just didn’t cover the whole week’s worth of gas. But I still managed to be on the honor roll.
 
 
I’m tired of the social stigma that comes with the label of “poor.” People assume that anyone who has government assistance is lazy, unemployed, undeserving, or taking advantage. But do we even remember why programs like food stamps or disability came to exist in the first place? TO HELP PEOPLE IN NEED. America tends to forget that. We talk the talk when it comes to the idea of helping the poor and less fortunate, but as soon as someone accepts that help, we certainly don’t see them walking the walk. A single mother trying to raise two kids shouldn’t be chastised for using food stamps. A teenage girl shouldn’t be crying in the car because she can’t afford a dress to go to prom with her boyfriend, even though she works two jobs. A young man shouldn’t lay awake at night thinking about the thousands of dollars of loans he’s had to take out in order to better his life and further his education, just to keep him from ever struggling like his parents. 
 
The people that do take advantage should not and do not outweigh the needs of the people that don’t.
We are a broken system. One that needs work. But it starts with each and every one of us. It starts at the grocery store, in the halls at school, or even the white house. It starts here, and it starts now. It’s not wrong to ask for help, and it’s most definitely okay to accept it. Take it from a welfare baby who is now on full scholarship at the school of her dreams. You are not where you come from. Changing your life starts with you.