Huffpost Politics

'You Plan On Sending Your Kids To College. It's Now Out Of The Question.'

Posted: Updated:

Larry Silveira, 60, worked a full-time, salaried job until a motorcycle injury in 2009 took him out of the workforce for two years. Until then, he lived a comfortable life with his wife and two children. Now, he makes $9.25 an hour working part-time at a major retail chain store (he asked not to provide its name for fear of "retaliation").

I was working for a retail lumber company, and I got injured and wasn't able to work for a couple years. And then the only job I could find was working for a big-bucks store who I work for now, and they pay, you know, just a hair over minimum wage and work you only anywhere from 20 to 32 hours a week.

My shifts vary from morning to evening to night. A typical morning, I get up, go to work -- be there at 7. The normal retail activities: stocking shelves, cleaning out -- things of that nature. Once I get off work, come home and spend the night at home. There's no room for vacations or very much entertainment at all.

Before [the injury], I guess our household income was about $50,000 a year. That's not a whole lot, but we lived comfortably. We were able to afford to go on vacation, you know, if we watched our money. And able to provide a good home for our children.

Ever since then, you worry about money because there's not very much of it. You worry about how you're going to pay the bills. You get stressed out and wonder if you're going to make it one month to the next, if you're going to have room for rent.

When you're fully employed and making a decent salary, you know, you don't have those worries. You enjoy your life. You enjoy your family. When you're underemployed or you're working for a little over minimum wage, you don't have that opportunity to relax.

A turning point is probably when I got hurt. Nobody's fault but my own. I was out riding my motorcycle and basically put it down and got pretty well broken up and broke a lot of my bones. So I was unable to work for about two years. And when I went back into the job market, there wasn't a whole lot of jobs available.

We rent. We were in a one-bedroom apartment and in July moved into a small house. We have to be careful. Last night we kept the heat so low that our pipes froze. And so right now we're heating water from melted snow.

I think it's around 7 degrees here. Luckily, we have a fireplace, so I chop wood. That's where last night I got melting snow to use for the utilities. You do what you got to do.

You learn very quickly how to budget shop. Look for the best buys. You don't eat meat as much as you used to -- which is probably more healthy for you. But when you do buy meat, it's in the marked down section of the store. You learn to survive. You make do with what you have.

If you find chicken breast for 99 cents a pound, buy $3 worth and put it in the freezer. Very similar to what you had to do in the old days, where you took care of your family and grew your own food and canned it, froze it or whatever to make it last. That's basically what you learn to do all over again. It makes you think, and it makes you plan ahead.

And when you do get a good buy, it makes you feel happy. Hey, I got this good buy on this product or that produce. I saved that amount of money.

I was born and raised on the farm. My mother canned vegetables and fruit. I guess that's one of the biggest things that lasted throughout the years. I always had a big freezer, where I could buy in bulk. So one of the things that I brought from my youth, I guess, is canning and freezing food. You buy certain vegetables when they're in season, when they're cheap, you split them, you put them in the freezer, and have them in the winter when they're expensive.

All our expenses really aren't covered. We find ourselves utilizing our credit cards to make ends meet. And luckily we have friends and family that help us out.

You plan on sending your kids to college. It's now out of the question. You can't afford to give your children the benefits that other children have. It's not fair to them. It's not in their control.

I'm always on the lookout for alternative work. Working with the public service in any kind of capacity is a challenge. I mean, you never have a set schedule. Sometimes you have split days off. Your schedule constantly changes.

You have no control of your life. Your employers control your life by how many hours you work and what your availability is. And so, you don't have that freedom that a lot of people have with a 9 to 5, Monday through Friday job.

It makes it literally impossible to find a second job because you don't know what your availability is. I work anything from seven in the morning to 10 o'clock at night, and when you have that sort of schedule it's just real difficult to find a second job.

You're not around your family as much as you would want to be. Right now I don't know what I'm doing for Christmas. You know, I know that our store is closed, but other than that, I don't know what the schedule is.

You're always uncertain. You can't make any long-range plans. There's always an uncertainty of when you're going to be available. Travel is out of the question. Even just having one day off makes it impossible to travel any distance at all.

I guess the biggest thing is the lack of security. Where before, my kids would say, "Hey, you know I'm in a tight bind, can I borrow some money?" or something along those lines. We're just not able to provide them that financial security or financial backup as we were before.

You get very discouraged. You get depressed. You feel hopeless. You have very little self-worth. And it's just a terrible thing to feel like you failed your family, or you can't provide for them the way you had in the past.

Luckily, my family adapted very well to it. They didn't complain at all; they just accepted the situation and made the best of it. And I guess that was one of the biggest things that was a positive note in my life.

You really start to understand the meaning of what's important, what's not. It has more meaning to give somebody a present you made yourself or took the time to deal with versus just giving somebody the money order or something along that line. It brings us down to earth.

You always try to improve. Moving from a one bedroom apartment to a house where you have more than one bedroom, a yard. It takes time, but you just put your nose to the grindstone, and you just keep moving along.''

As told to Farah Mohamed.

poverty

Larry's story is part of a Huffington Post series profiling Americans who work hard and yet still struggle to make ends meet. Learn more about other individuals' experiences here.

Have a similar story you'd like to share? Email us at workingpoor@huffingtonpost.com or give us a call at (408) 508-4833, and you can record your story in your own words. Please be sure to include your name and phone number.

Also on HuffPost:

U.S. Capitol Photos
of
Share
Tweet
Advertisement
Share this
close
Current Slide

Suggest a correction