The Stories Behind the Numbers
Senior Advocacy Specialist, Amanda Perez, spoke with Strolling Thunder families to shine a light on the stories behind new data released today by the U.S. Census Bureau.
Nearly 1 in 5 infants and toddlers in the United States were living in poverty in 2018, according to data released today by the U.S. Census Bureau. But numbers only tell part of the story. Ahead of the release of this new data, I spoke to Demi Deshazior from Florida and Morgan Briggs from Idaho, two Strolling Thunder moms, to hear from them about the experience of raising young children in the face of economic insecurity, and the programs and supports that have helped their families thrive.
Q: How would you describe your economic situation when your children were born?
Demi: “Before Broddy was born, I had been working in my job as a clinical coordinator for 6 years. But when we welcomed Broddy into our family, I only had 90 days of unpaid leave, and I realized it was not enough for my body to heal from my C-section and to learn about and bond with my baby. We decided that I would quit my job and my husband, Rashawn, would work full-time and beyond to support our family. But we went from a two-income, two-person household to a one-income three-person household and it was tough. We didn’t always have enough to pay all the bills.”
Morgan: “I found out I was having twins when I was about 9 weeks pregnant. I knew at the time I could financially and emotionally care for one baby, but the thought of two was very scary. I doubted if I could be the mother that both of them needed or give them the life I knew they deserved. But the second I met them—saw them, held them—I couldn’t imagine life without them. But money was tight. Just a few months after my kids were born, I was laid off from my job due to a company buy out. Now, I am in school full-time, and while that is the right decision for my family long-term, money is still a struggle.”
Q: You were trying to be the best moms you could be to your kids! But I’m sure that knowing what a crucial time the first three years are in their development was daunting. What were the challenges?
Morgan: “I can be a stubborn person but I have learned that knowing when to ask for help is a strength not a weakness. I have learned to set aside my pride and ask for help when I needed it because it wasn’t just for my well-being but for my kids’. I have been blessed to access some government programs that helped me provide the kids and myself with what we needed, but even so, we live a very budgeted lifestyle.”
Demi: “Our primary challenge was not being able to pay our bills on time. While we worked to cut back where we could, we quickly went through our savings and found ourselves in debt. We had to make decisions when we were paying bills. We knew we could put off paying the light bill for a while before the power would be cut, and so we did that rather than cut the car bill because we needed the car so RaShawn could get to work!”
Q: What you described is so stressful and so common! Families can often make do with what they have, but one emergency – like if the car breaks down – can really upset the balance. What programs and/or people were helpful to you and why?
Demi: “With Medicaid, Broddy and I both got health care, which was our first priority. We also relied on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC). I’m not sure how we would have paid for our groceries without either program. Also, thank goodness for grandparents! Our families help us physically, emotionally, and financially. And now that I have gone back to work, both of our moms have stepped in to help with child care. We know that Broddy needs high-quality care, and, in our area, it is hard to find and expensive. We applied for a subsidy, as well as Early Head Start, which would provide free child care, but are still waiting. How do others do it without family support?”
Morgan: “I had some initial concerns with the kids’ speech and motor development, but, through a home visiting program and early intervention, I got lots of tips and tricks to help get the twins where they needed to be. And then there was child care. Child care was an unbelievable cost for two babies, and Early Head Start’s free, high-quality care made all the difference in the world for us. I also relied on Medicaid, SNAP, and WIC, and sometimes look to my family for support looking after the kids while I am at school and work. When the twins were a year old, we started receiving housing support as well.”
Q: What would you want lawmakers to know about raising a young child when money is so tight?
Morgan: “As a single mom, every decision has consequences. In the end, I chose school over working, because that has the best long-term impact on my family. But short-term, it is expensive to give babies everything they need. I needed help and was glad there was help available for me. I wish policymakers knew the true impact they can make for families. That’s why being a part of Strolling Thunder was so important to me. We were able to put a face behind the costs and the statistics for our Members of Congress, and to let them know how important these programs are for families like mine.”
Demi: “Every family is different, but we can all agree that adjusting to parenthood is tough. If policymakers were to just walk around in our shoes for one day, they would have a better understanding of the supports all families need to support their babies as they grow. If there had been a national paid leave program when Broddy was born, I would never have left my job. It shouldn’t be so hard for families to provide the basic supports our babies need. We need to invest in them now because they are our future!”
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