Freshly out of college, Anna faced a tough job market. Her education wasn’t opening any doors for her desired career. She searched and searched, but finally quit being picky about the type of work she’d do and accepted a job with no benefits, paying slightly over minimum wage.
Although she’d been sharing an apartment to keep costs down, when her roommate got married, they young lady needed new living quarters. Fortunately, an apartment was available in an inexpensive part of town – about what it had cost when sharing rent with someone else. Anna had $200 left after paying her monthly rent. Utilities, food, and transportation quickly devoured every cent.
Bus fare was $1.50 each way, so she had to reserve $3 per day for transportation to get to and from work. Not much, but it added up to $60 a month, and if she didn’t set it aside, it might not be there when needed. Another $25 for the electric bill meant she had lights in her apartment and a refrigerator that worked.
The first gas bill arrived, and Anna’s jaw dropped at the $187 total. She contacted others in the complex and discovered that everyone else paid $15-$20 per month for their heat and hot water. Armed with this news, a call to the gas company got someone to test the line for leaks, but they found none. Anna matter-of-factly stated that there was obviously a mistake somewhere, but she wasn’t going to argue with them. She didn’t have that kind of money, so they’d better cut off the gas.
Without gas, the kitchen range was useless. Anna found an electric skillet at a thrift store and ate only foods that could be cooked in it. Clean-up meant heating water in that same skillet so she could wash the dishes.
Showers were out of the question; the small bathroom only had a tub. Cold baths in a poorly insulated apartment were fine – even welcome – when it was 90 degrees outside. When winter came, that didn’t work. Sponge-baths using water heated in the electric skillet didn’t suffice. Anna learned that a YWCA membership was $30 a month; it seemed like the best solution to her shower situation.
If you’re keeping track, there was now only $85 left to pay for telephone service, quarters for the laundromat, and a month’s worth of food. Skipping the phone was tempting, but Anna decided that (given the neighborhood), a telephone might be a good security investment. Also, she’d never be able to find a better job if potential employers couldn’t call her. Laundry expenses could be cut if she washed clothes by hand, but the clothes wouldn’t freeze-dry on a line strung across the bathtub. It took $8 to wash and dry her clothes every week. There just wasn’t enough money for food.
Searching for solutions, Anna discovered a pizza parlor two blocks from her apartment. When she asked the busy manager if he was hiring, his response was, “When can you start?”
Far from the dreams of a young professional life she’d trained for, Anna left her apartment at 5:30 every morning and rode the bus to the YWCA. After a nice workout in the pool and some time in the weight room, she enjoyed her hot shower before heading to her 8-5 job. At 5:00 she was out the door and quickly hopped on a bus. Unable the be two places at once, starting her second job at 5 (as scheduled) was impossible, but the manager understood and let her arrive as soon as she could. After answering phones and making pizzas until midnight, Anna walked home in the dark and stumbled into bed for a few hours of sleep.
Anna was as grateful for the free dinner every night as she was for the extra money. Minimum wage wasn’t much in those days, but after taxes, the extra job resulted in an extra $70 a week. It allowed her money for food, and even a bit for new stockings occasionally. As long as no emergencies came up, she was scraping by.
Eventually, Anna got sick. Staying home would have meant no paycheck, no food, and ultimately nowhere to live. She dragged herself to work until the day her boss insisted that she needed a doctor and sent her home. Anna used the yellow pages to find a doctor’s office near her apartment and explained to the receptionist that she’d been sick for a month and was pretty sure she had a sinus infection. It was a long shot, but was there any chance of getting an amoxicillin prescription without seeing the doctor? The receptionist asked why she didn’t just make an appointment, and Anna, near tears, replied that if she did that, she wouldn’t have money to buy medicine. Silence.
She was put on hold, then the doctor picked up the line and asked questions – history over the phone. Finally he asked how, out of all the doctors in the city, Anna had chosen him. “Your office is close enough that I can walk there to pick up a prescription.”
More silence. “It sounds like you probably do have a sinus infection. I can’t be positive without examining you, but I’ll prescribe some amoxicillin and we can phone it to the pharmacy. You don’t need to come here. If the amoxicillin doesn’t work, though, you need to make an appointment. We’ll work out a payment plan for you.”
To be continued…