Tuesday, July 7, 2009

What a working woman needs....?

Soon, in late October (which will be here before I can blink), I'll have been a parent for 13 years! The trials and tribulations of parenthood have shaped me and the lessons learned in the aftermath of many dangers averted and survived have secured my seat at the "Council of Sages" once my body catches up with the fatigue of my battle ridden professional identity. I learned two things very early as a working woman the 1st was that opportunities for advancement were limited and the competition was fierce 2nd the workplace is hostile towards working parents. I love being a woman, I feel honored to be a mom, but parenthood sucks!

For almost thirteen years I have struggled to provide a quality life for my children and myself. I have been working since I was 9 years old. I started out emptying trash cans in a neighborhood in home childcare,and have worked a collage of part and full time jobs to support myself throughout college well into my parenthood experience. The jobs ( cashier, waitress, inn keeper, front desk agent, customer service rep, program assistant,and bank teller) required long hours in multiple shifts in order to meet the minimum financial obligations connected to my household. And no matter how many hours I seemed to work, the hourly pay rate inhibited my ability meet 100% of my obligations 100% of the time.

I exchanged a living wage for flexible schedule that allowed me the time to balance my family responsibilities. I was able to work odd shifts that allowed me to be available to my children daughter most days after school and in the early evenings. I did have to sacrifice weekend time with my family as I often worked 3 out of 4 weekends a month. If I could get a weekend off it was usually a single day [Friday,Saturday or Sunday] but rarely two weekend days in a row. Working weekend shifts meant that quality time with my family was a prized event so I looked forward to our full Saturday or Sunday together once a month. Though I appreciated being able to pick my children up from school, helping with homework, and preparing meals; I felt constant anxiety about my income and our expenses. I often worked when sick as I could never afford to take a sick day for myself and often sent my children to child care and school in poor health because I was unable to take time off from work to care for them.

I have, since becoming an adult, been employed. My part time jobs offered me the flexibility I needed, but the pay was very scarce. Full time positions often presented other challenges such as a rigid schedule or exempted positions that again required long hours that were compensated in an accrual of comp-time that I could never find the time to take off. The benefit packages such as health, life and dental that covered me and my children offered some cushion to my anxiety when the often compromised net pay was deposited into my often negative bank account. But still I felt like I could never get ahead and was doomed to be stuck in a cycle of poverty that kept me living just below a descent standard of living.

I began to find myself waking in the middle of the evening in sweats concerned about the future of my family and my professional options. I had no college degree, two children and a non traditional career path. Was I ever going to be able to find work that not only payed me a "fair" wage but also satisfied my thirst for professional development. I needed employment that helped me to build a pathway to economic self sufficiency, not a job that leached my talents and potential with dead end prospects. I was often overlooked for promotions and scrutinized for every off day I may have taken, though as I stated I days off were rare and only taken when absolutely required by a doctor.

I have experienced many accomplishments in my professional and personal life. But the lows have been completely derailing. I have survived 3 (independent) company lay-offs, been forced to live on unemployment insurance and food stamps while trying to reenter the workplace, evicted from 2 apartments, been homeless with my children and had 1 car repossessed while trying to keep my life with children in tow afloat. when I was not able to work a traditional job, I created wealth for myself my accepting a string non-traditional service jobs such as nanny, house keeper or day laborer. I have, as many adults will empathize, always had to work to support myself. My children required me to stretch a $28k salary to cover the needs of 3 people this included covering the exorbitant cost of quality childcare/ aftercare, housing and transportation expenses. I list those three expenses as the primaries because we survived with a roof over our heads but often went without utilities and ate meager rations. Childcare and after care were a support that must be afforded if I was t o be able to work at all. Without transportation (including MARTA tokens) movement was compromised and travel to and from work or schools was impossible.

Maybe some of you would list other expenses, but my children and I have always lived on a scarce budget, and this working mom often finds herself asking "What do I need to survive?" or "What do we need to make it out of this mess?" Well my work in the area of workplace advocacy has helped me to define with more clarity and confidence what this working mom needs. I need health benefits that cover my family and myself with a low co-pay and options in coverage. I need pay that supports a quality life. I don't want to go from a 2004 Malibu classic to a 2009 Bentley, I'm not trying to buy more house than I can afford to care for, I want to be able to take my children to the Georgia Aquarium just once without having to compromise the utility bill or blowing the food budget for the month. I need to work for an employer that has compassion for the family unit and accepts that whether physically present or not, support of the family is why most adults maintain employment. We all want to retire with a good work history, financial security and life insurance benefits that will provide for our loved ones after our transition; as a single working mom I want to believe that I too can strive for these American ideals. But I often feel stuck and uncertain in this southern "Right to Work" state whose electorate seems to be committed to continuing this disenchanting waltz that perpetuates my and many others downward spiral into abject poverty. I need my elected officials to hear my well articulated appeal to pass laws that provide paid sick time, life supporting wages and advancement opportunities for all employees in all fields of work. All work in unique and necessary on some level; men/ women, young/ old, college educated or not, regardless of ethnicity or sexual identity need to know with security and confidence a quality life is obtainable and that the American workplace is a vehicle to deliver on promise of internationally popularized American ideals.

As a working woman, I need an intentional effort made to level the playing field in the workplace, so that it can become a viable means to lift mine and many families like mine out of poverty and push us further from its clutches.

posted by Shyria Coleman.... please offer your comments, feed back, concerns or rebuttals on this discussion board. I want to know... What do other working women need?

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