'It's Dirty Work And It's Often Demeaning Work, But At Least It's Work'

'It's Dirty Work And It's Often Demeaning Work, But At Least It's Work'

Vanessa Powell, 29, works full time in a Goodwill warehouse in Seattle for $9.25 an hour. She holds a bachelor's degree in English and a master's in business administration.

I now work at Goodwill Industries as a production associate. Basically, I work in a warehouse. I make $9.25 an hour, and it covers almost all the bills. I still am racking up a deficit every month. I'm definitely trying to find another job because I have an MBA.

I went to the University of Alaska for my undergraduate, and I remember trying to get out of Alaska for a long time. I got my undergraduate in English, but there's not a market in English majors, I'm afraid. So I switched over to my master's in business and moved south.

I bike a mile and a half in to my job. And I work a full eight-hour shift, which involves tons and tons of books -- we move about one metric ton of books a day. Sorting through all of them, going through the donations and pricing them, putting them on the shelves.

I feel it's sort of -- I hate to say it -- beneath me, but at the same time, I'm grateful. For anything. I mean, yeah, it's dirty work and often demeaning work, but at least it's work.

My fiancé recently lost his job -- that's one less income. Even though he only worked part time, it was still something. I make enough to cover rent and electric, but we share a cell phone, which is why it's kind of hard for both of us to search for jobs.

Getting enough food is the biggest challenge. We roll our pennies together and try to make the food stretch until the food stamps are loaded back on the card.

I haven't bought new clothes for myself in two years. I can't even remember the last time we went to the movies. We stopped going out a long time ago. I want to say a year and a half was the last time we went out. I haven't seen my friends in about six months because I can't afford to go out with them, and they all want to go out.

We couldn't afford an apartment, so we rented a room in a house. Because I do landscaping for our landlord, he gives us a discount on the rent. And we have our own space cordoned off. So after I bike home from my shift, I try to do about an hour of landscaping and house maintenance, so that we can afford the place.

We've been looking for a new place for ages. It's 400 square feet. Most of our stuff is outside in the rain because we can't get it into the apartment. But anything that's unessential has to go out there.

So things like spare linens are out in the rain, but it's not like I'll have guests anyway. I haven't invited people over in two years. I can't. There'd be no place for them to stand, no place for them to sit. It's far too small.

I've just learned to get by with less. I'd like to be able to afford vices, like even just a drink. I'd buy a couple new books. I'd probably invest money in taking care of my animals. They go to the doctor's more than I do. I really miss being able to go to the doctor.

For the most part, my coworkers joke about what it would be like to to make a living wage and fantasize about what it would be like to cover all the bills. And we laugh at the sort of things we'd do. It should be frivolous, but it's often serious, like buy a new pair of shoes that don't have holes in them. You have to really just laugh about it because otherwise you start crying.

On my breaks, I generally read books I get from the library. My days off are spent searching for different jobs. When I get home at night, I try to work on my writing once I'm done with chores, usually while I'm eating dinner.

I know that I'm probably not going to be able to retire until I'm 70. I've not been able to put away for retirement, much less buy health insurance, so if I live long enough, I'm probably going to be working until my dying day.

I hope to eventually start working a job where I make more than the minimum possible amount. Enough where maybe I can get an electric wheel on my bike because I have arthritis in my hip and it's getting harder to take the hills. Maybe enough where we could even adopt kids.

My fiancé and I have kicked around the idea of having kids for almost as long as we've been together, but we don't make enough, in all sanity, to allow a child in our care. About eight months ago, we just stopped talking about it entirely.

As told to Farah Mohamed.


Vanessa'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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