Reflections on poverty's causes and cures -- from the poor

Part of an occasional series
March 4, 2012 4:36 pm
  • Sharon Taylor, 38, lives at Sojourner MOMS House with her four children while she goes to school and works part time at Target.
    Sharon Taylor, 38, lives at Sojourner MOMS House with her four children while she goes to school and works part time at Target.
  • Veronica Spataro, 26, lives at Sojourner MOMS House with her children, Jared, 5, and Ruby, 3.
    Veronica Spataro, 26, lives at Sojourner MOMS House with her children, Jared, 5, and Ruby, 3.
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The women in the Sojourner House MOMS program in East Liberty are near the bottom of America's economic ladder.

So when it comes to the issue of whether there are some poor people who deserve government help and some who don't, they not only speak from experience -- their answers may surprise you.

"I really believe it's a person's choice where they want to go in life," says Sharon Taylor, an African-American 38-year-old mother of four who is going to school and working part-time at Target.

"I'm not going to be the one who will sit here and say my ancestors picked cotton -- I don't know if they picked cotton, and I'm not about to blame anything on that race stuff. I believe it's so important to take race out of the picture, and just look at the people as they are, because when you can do that, there is less blaming. You have to look at yourself and what are your morals and values and are you going to stand by them."

At the same time, Ms. Taylor would like people to understand what a struggle it is to wean yourself off of welfare. It wasn't until she was working 30 hours a week at Target that she earned enough money to replace the $500 a month she had been getting in welfare assistance.

And if she weren't still eligible for food stamps and medical assistance, she doesn't know how she could take care of her children, a 15-year-old, a 13-year-old and 7-year-old twins.

Najeena Walker, 38, has had a similar experience. A union carpenter, she can make decent money when she is working, but never knows when she'll be laid off, as she was in early February.

Ms. Walker estimates she earned just $18,000 last year, her first as a union apprentice. So food stamps and medical assistance for her family are vital, because "when I work, it's good; but when I don't work, my unemployment is not even a fraction of what I made each week."

Mark Roth: mroth@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1130.
First Published 2012-03-03 23:34:18

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