Is scrubbing toilets the ticket to easy street? Read about Stephanie Land’s struggle to pay the bills in Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother’s Will to Survive

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My Review:

Everyone has a story and it is possible that Stephanie Land’s is not all that unique.  That is the importance of her telling us about her job as a Maid, her strength and persistence to support herself and her daughter while bringing to light the challenges so many people living in poverty are faced with when it comes to getting government assistance.  Perceived laziness and free ride mentality are hurtful stigmas that hardworking men and women fight against when unfortunate circumstances find them living below the poverty line.

In a similar vein of Educated by Tara Westover, Stephanie Land beautifully expresses her insights on humanity and gives a voice to the hardworking people who like her, struggle to stay afloat doing domestic labor jobs working for the wealthier to earn a living, apply for housing assistance and vouchers for food, barter for room and board and strive to the best single parent possible…all while on the quest for higher education to create a better life.

According to the US Census Bureau, close to 40 million people in this country live in poverty, with women and minorities leading the charge.

If you want to read more stories about poverty, try Heartland by Sarah Smarsh and Evicted by Matthew Desmond.

Enjoy this Video interview of author Stephanie Land.

Goodreads Summary

 

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About the Author:

Stephanie Land is the author of MAID: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother’s Will to Survive. Her work has been featured in the New York Times, New York Review of Books, Washington Post, Guardian; Vox, Salon, and many other outlets. She focuses on social and economic justice as a writing fellow through both the Center for Community Change and the Economic Hardship Reporting Project. She lives in Missoula, Montana, with her two daughters. Follow on Instagram and Twitter @stepville.

 

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An Eye-Opening Story of Poverty in America…Heartland by Sarah Smarsh

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My Review:

It is possible that I have overdosed on stories about indigence and the cultural divide, so for me, Sarah Smarsh’s message was strong yet her story felt repetitive.  Smarsh tells us about her family and how their extreme poverty lead to generations of teenaged pregnancies,  drinking, abuse, lack of education, bad or absent parenting, and all the while her family worked hard to live.  We learn everything through the author talking to her unborn child – in my opinion, an unnecessary addition to this memoir which forces us to reevaluate how we look at our country’s class structure, often based on earnings.

According to the author, the government doesn’t even recognize the people who are below the poverty line. She says, “In college, I began to understand the depth of the rift that is economic inequality.” With self awareness and recognition of her past, Sarah broke the chain that was passed down through the generations of her family as she chose to avoid teenage pregnancy, and as of now, parenthood altogether.

Reminiscent of Hillbilly Elegy by J. D. Vance, and inclusive of some elements of Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond and Educated by Tara Westover, Sarah Smarsh’s story felt like more of the same but is worthy if you can’t get enough!

Goodreads Summary

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About the author:

Journalist Sarah Smarsh has covered socioeconomic class, politics, and public policy for The Guardian, The New York Times, NewYorker.com, Harpers.org, Longreads, Pacific Standard and many others. A native of rural Kansas, Smarsh is a frequent speaker and commentator on economic inequality and the news media. She lives in Kansas.

Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond

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My thoughts:

Living paycheck to paycheck comes with ongoing pressures and struggles, but in Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City, Matthew Desmond introduces us to the poorest of the poor, people lacking basic needs, food, clothing and shelter.  The downward spiral is devastating and our system offers little hope for getting ahead.  Simply stated, when tenants miss work to take care of their children, their pay is docked, and then, unable to afford food and ultimately rent, they get evicted.  From homeless shelters to other dilapidated hovels or trailor parks where the landlord refuses to put money into repairs because tenants are not paying the rent, these people, highest percentage of them black women with children, are constantly struggling as they are thrown out on the streets.

In order to write this book, the author immersed himself into the life of poverty as a tenant in Milwaukee where he studies the trends eviction play in our society. There are many contributors, government subsidized housing, food stamps, shelters, employement opportunities, education, drugs and crime, that all play a part in the successes and failures of the evicted.

When speaking about the tenants:

“Rent was their biggest expense by far, and they wanted a decent and functional home in return.  They wanted things to be fixed when they broke.  But if Sherenna wasn’t going to repair her own property, neither were they.  The house failed the tenants and the tenants failed the house.”

In regard to the nearly hopeless situation for moms with kids searching for housing:

“In 1980…1 in 4 rental units was available to families without restrictions (extra deposit and monthly surcharges per child).  Eight years later Congress finally outlawed housing discrimination against children and families, but…the practice remained widespread.  Families with children were turned away in as many as 7 in 10 housing searches.”

Bravo to Matthew Desmond for tackling this topic with tons of research.  This extraordinarily brutal and honest book is winner of the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction and is a must read in order to understand eviction, the toll it takes on tenants in the downward spiral of poverty, the landlords’ exploitation of the poor, and an economic system that is in desperate need of repair.  Desperation leads to drastic measures for both renters and landlords and our system has not done enough to provide realistic options to protect and nurture human life.

 

Summary as seen on Goodreads:
In this brilliant, heartbreaking book, Matthew Desmond takes us into the poorest neighborhoods of Milwaukee to tell the story of eight families on the edge. Arleen is a single mother trying to raise her two sons on the $20 a month she has left after paying for their rundown apartment. Scott is a gentle nurse consumed by a heroin addiction. Lamar, a man with no legs and a neighborhood full of boys to look after, tries to work his way out of debt. Vanetta participates in a botched stickup after her hours are cut. All are spending almost everything they have on rent, and all have fallen behind.

The fates of these families are in the hands of two landlords: Sherrena Tarver, a former schoolteacher turned inner-city entrepreneur, and Tobin Charney, who runs one of the worst trailer parks in Milwaukee. They loathe some of their tenants and are fond of others, but as Sherrena puts it, “Love don’t pay the bills.” She moves to evict Arleen and her boys a few days before Christmas.

Even in the most desolate areas of American cities, evictions used to be rare. But today, most poor renting families are spending more than half of their income on housing, and eviction has become ordinary, especially for single mothers. In vivid, intimate prose, Desmond provides a ground-level view of one of the most urgent issues facing America today. As we see families forced  into shelters, squalid apartments, or more dangerous neighborhoods, we bear witness to the human cost of America’s vast inequality—and to people’s determination and intelligence in the face of hardship.

Based on years of embedded fieldwork and painstakingly gathered data, this masterful book transforms our understanding of extreme poverty and economic exploitation while providing fresh ideas for solving a devastating, uniquely American problem. Its unforgettable scenes of hope and loss remind us of the centrality of home, without which nothing else is possible.

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About the author:

Matthew Desmond is an American sociologist and urban ethnographer. He is currently the John L. Loeb Associate Professor of the Social Sciences at Harvard University and Co-Director of the Justice and Poverty Project. The author of several books, including the award-winning book, On the Fireline, and Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City, Desmond was awarded a MacArthur “Genius” grant in 2015 for his work on poverty in America.

No One Is Coming To Save Us by Stephanie Powell Watts

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No One Is Coming To Save Us by Stephanie Powell Watts

My Review:

In a small town in North Carolina an African American family is reaching for the American Dream. Life is hard and full of disappointments as it seems like a black cloud is over them. Ava is desperate for a baby yet she battles infertility and secretly reaches out to an online community for support and advise. Her husband Henry is upset about the decline in the furniture industry where he works, is cheating on Ava and feels disappointed in himself. Ava’s mother Sylvia’s life is stunted; she has never gotten over losing her son Devon and is married to Don, a man she doesn’t trust. JJ Ferguson, Ava’s old boyfriend is back in town, wealthy and living large on top of the hill. He has built a house overlooking the town and is hoping to get back together with Ava as he searches for the feeling of being home.

“We all get disappointed. ….We want what’s missing. Everybody wants what’s missing. “ Wealth, trust, fidelity, love…they all are searching for something to make them feel whole yet no one is spared of life’s challenges.

As Ava, JJ, Henry and Sylvia struggle to find happiness the occasional glimmers of light are not enough to make all their dreams come true.
“They could pretend they had the power to fix their lives. The trick was making themselves believe it. That’s what joy is, isn’t it? Belief for a little while that you have the power to mend everything?”

Stephanie Powell Watts has written an impressive debut as she skillfully weaves thoughts from the characters’ pasts with current goings ons – a true glimpse into how they physically experience the now while recalling old memories. She gives us a snapshot of reality where little is perfect and few are satisfied. It is reminiscent of the fact that life can be challenging and making the most out of it gives us the biggest reward.

“If you can’t get what you want, want something else. “

I thoroughly enjoyed this novel and look forward to more from Stephanie Powell Watts.

Purchase a copy of No One Is Coming To Save Us on AMAZON HERE.

Click hear to listen to Stephanie Powell Watts’ NPR Interview HERE

 

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Stephanie Powell Watts won the Ernest J. Gaines Award for Literary Excellence for her debut story collection, We Are Taking Only What We Need (2012), also named one of 2013’s Best Summer Reads by O: The Oprah Magazine. Her short fiction has been included in two volumes of the Best New Stories from the South anthology and honored with a Pushcart Prize. Ms. Powell Watts’s stories explore the lives of African Americans in fast food and factory jobs, working door to door as Jehovah’s Witness ministers, and pressing against the boundaries of the small town, post-integration South. Her forthcoming debut novel, titled No One Is Coming to Save Us, follows the return of a successful native son to his home in North Carolina and his attempt to join the only family he ever wanted but never had. As Ms. Powell Watts describes it, “Imagine The Great Gatsby set in rural North Carolina, nine decades later, with desperate black people.” Born in the foothills of North Carolina, with a PhD from the University of Missouri and a BA from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, she now lives in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania where she is an associate professor at Lehigh University.