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News everywhere reports the dismal financial condition we’re in. But, there aren’t many reports about workers in the invisible lower middle class. As an employee of a union with nearly 11,000 members, I have witnessed what are called the working poor among our members. A large number of our members in a certain region are single moms with low paying jobs. Many of them have been coming to the union to request monetary help. These are known as hardship requests.

The cap on our public employee local’s hardship contribution is $500 and a growing number are given — without strings — to members every month. The sad fact is that even the full amount they receive is not going to help any of them very much. Besides having so little money to pay for the necessities, these people for the most part, don’t know how to manage the small amounts they have. But, they also get into some awful tangles that can’t be prevented, due to medical treatments, family death, abusive spouses, and so on. Increasingly, they face eviction and repossession. Often, it would take a lot of money to make all their creditors current, pay for shelter and transportation, put food on the table, and clothes for the children.

They ask for help from family, friends, and from anyone who can offer it. Nothing is stable or sure in their lives — most particularly, now. The bad financial consequences are beginning to be felt by the public agencies they work for. Thankfully, the agencies cut services, before cutting employees. Our union keeps an eye on the progress of budget cuts and steps in whenever the question arises as to how many and where should employees be laid off. We help our members, mostly without them being aware of it, by ensuring the agencies look for other positions that can be filled with the people they want to cut to avoid letting them go.

But soon, I expect the the other shoe to drop. The terrible force of a bad state and national economy will throw public agencies against the wall. To survive, among other actions, they will have to cut people loose. What will happen to these people who are barely surviving in the working world? What about their children? The reality of financial destruction for so many more has cast its dark shadow over all the working poor.

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