POLITICS
12/24/2013 02:18 pm ET Updated Jan 23, 2014

'I Feel Like We're Climbing A Hill That's About To Give Out Into A Mudslide'

Kelly Lingo, 22, a stay-at-home mom and student and her boyfriend, Alex Felkins, 24, are raising their 9-month-old son in the struggling city of Stockton, Calif., which declared municipal bankruptcy in 2012. Alex supports the family with a $10-an-hour job as a shipping clerk at a company that makes labels.

Kelly: Our food stamps got shortened in the last month. Before, we were able to afford getting formula and plenty of food for us to last the month. And now we're really struggling.

Alex: It went from us eating and keeping our bellies full to scraping out of the barrel. We went from us having actual dinners at night, to me maybe getting a bowl of ramen, or a can of chili, or something cheap from the dollar store.

Kelly: We got a letter saying "this is how much you're getting now" and I called and I asked why. She said it was because of the government cutbacks. I kind of wanted to cry, because we couldn't afford food.

If we do have extra money, it usually goes to diapers or formula. The formula's so expensive. Feeding my son, that's my biggest concern. I've been consistent with feeding him pretty well. As much as I don't like to skip meals, I can do it -- I can go without eating if it means feeding my son.

We sometimes go to [Alex's] grandparents' house and see if they have any extra cans of stuff, like corn and whatnot, or noodles, anything extra they might have in their pantry.

Alex: There's a lot of stuff she and I want to get just to improve our daily life that we can't afford. Replacing a toothbrush, or getting a new comb. It's hard for me sometimes to get new deodorant or shampoo. It all adds up in the end.

We've got a Dollar Tree broom that we've been using since we moved in here in February, and it's falling apart. I've had the same comb for a long time. I've had my toothbrush since we moved out. I don't think I've shopped for new clothes since ... the last shirt I bought was at a rock concert in 2009.

Kelly: I got a lot bigger after having my son, so I don't really have any clothes right now. I was able to get one pair of pants, so I have one pair of pants, and then I still wear a lot of my maternity shirts.

Alex: She feels she can't even go outside because she has nothing to wear.

Kelly: We both wear glasses. Alex's glasses have been broken for a year, so he needs new glasses, but he's just been doing temporary fixes every now and then to keep them on his head. And Alex needs root canals; he has holes in his teeth that he needs filled.

Alex: The last three, four months have just been a struggle. I feel like we're climbing a hill that's about to give out into a mudslide.

I've been starting to recycle cans and bottles. People drink sodas and bottles of water all day. I can make an easy $45, $50 a week just by recycling cans from my workplace.

Kelly: I've actually sold a lot of my important stuff. When we really needed the money, I had to sell my guitar, my bass, my violin, my Wii, a bunch of stuff.

Alex: It sucked. I hate watching people having to sell items to live. Selling stuff you love, it's really sad to see. In the future, I want to replace all the things she had to sell so that we could get food and bills paid.

Kelly: Playing the guitar was peaceful and relaxing. Even though I wasn't very good, it was just fun to pick it up and play. It was just one I got for sale on the Internet. It was really pretty for being such a low-grade guitar. I kind of fell in love with it when I saw it. I kind of regret selling it now.

Prior to being pregnant, I always wanted to be a stay-at-home mom, but I knew that if I absolutely had to work, I would look for a job. And I have been looking for a job. I've had interviews; I just haven't gotten hired. I've applied to Target, Game Stop, Pet Smart, PetCo, Sonic, BevMo, Cost Plus World Market, lots and lots of places.

Alex: In our situation right now, I think we have enough options for him to be taken care of where she can maybe escape to work for four or five hours just to make that little extra income. Even if it was just two or three days a week, every little bit would help. I feel we're on that cusp of not having enough and having enough.

Kelly: It's bittersweet, because I do want to be working, and it'd be nice for us to be making more money. But also, I absolutely love being with my son 24/7. I can't imagine not being with him all the time.

I’ve done a little bit of college. I did some online classes for the Academy of Art in San Francisco. I had to get a loan for that, and that's still out for me. And then I went to Delta College here, and right now I'm doing some community college up in Sacramento online. I want to become a preschool teacher, so I'm doing early childhood education.

Alex: I've always been one to work. I've been working since I was 10, and I've always had a job.

I'm a shipping clerk at a label company. It's pretty much how it sounds. I get the product after our quality control people handle it; I make sure it's all there. I put it in a box, and I either UPS it or put it on a truck. That's pretty much what I do for about 8 to 9 hours a day, depending on if I work overtime or not.

I don't feel like it goes very far at all. I get paid roughly between $690 and $740 every paycheck. Sometimes I pay all our bills, get food, and that's all the money I had.

Kelly: We don't have any savings at all; everything has to get paid right away. I've always wanted to save, but I've never been able to.

Alex: I don't like to worry about finances, but it's always playing in the back of my head. I always wonder after I get paid: Is this going to be enough? Some months I'll feel good about our finances, some months I'll feel that we're just in an absolute hole.

Kelly: Our apartment is pretty small; it's pretty cute. The whole complex has a mild roach problem that isn't too bad. We could only do one bedroom, though, two bedrooms would be be way too much for us. It's kind of rough with the baby in the room right now, especially with him getting bigger. Now that he's moving more, it's feeling a lot smaller.

Most of our apartment complex, they don't have stable jobs. A lot of them don't even have a job, and just recycle or do odd jobs around town. A few months ago, there was a lady living under the stairs, and our landlord found out, and kicked her off the property. She was there for several months.

Alex: If I had an opportunity to get out of here, and if things were an even playing field, I'd get out of here in a heartbeat.

As told to Ariel Edwards-Levy. Story has been edited for length and clarity.

poverty

Alex and Kelly'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.

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