This testimony was given at a forum of the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival.
My name is Elizabeth Strader. I am a proud United States citizen. I am college-educated and have been in the workforce since I was 15 years old. I was raised in a small town of hard-working middle and upper middle class people.
I attended wonderful public schools back when it was safe to do so, and I thrived academically and socially my entire life. If it were really true that “if you work hard enough, you can achieve the American Dream,” then I should be a textbook example of privilege and opportunity.
But instead, I am an underemployed single mother of two living below the federal poverty level, and I am a recipient of SNAP, or Food Stamps.
I’ve been at my current job for more than six years and in my current profession for thirteen years. Right now I only work about fifteen hours a week. This is certainly not by choice. I spend hours of my life, sometimes daily, trying to procure childcare. I have nothing to offer in return, so I am completely at the mercy of the kindness and availability of trusted friends and coworkers. I live in constant fear that at best I’ll miss out on a day of work — and the money it would provide — and at worst that I’ll be fired for unreliability.
We do not live in a “mom-friendly” or “child-friendly” country. We face inadequate paid maternity leave, abysmal postpartum healthcare, and equally appalling access to quality child care and public education. If these problems didn’t exist, I would never have needed to apply for SNAP in the first place.
I feel expendable, and there is an ever-increasing awareness of a logical fallacy that my country seems to be telling me is true: that if I am expendable, so too are my children. And that, I cannot stand for.
I do not represent the poorest in our country, but I do represent those who aren’t getting by, and those who truly have no opportunities to make their lives better. We need our government to “provide for the general welfare,” but right now we have leadership that is working hard to ensure we don’t get it.