Monday, February 25, 2019

Living Paycheck To Paycheck

The Catch 22 of Living Paycheck to Paycheck

By Venchele Saint Dic

Jim is an air traffic controller living in New York. He and his wife have four children. His wife is a stay at home mom raising their four children.  Jim earns $60,000 dollars annually. The extent of his education is a high school equivalency test. He has worked for his agency for 30 years. They own a home and depend on one income to pay the expenses incurred monthly for the household. 

Carla is a single mother of two children. She works as a contractor for a trucking company based in California. Due to the lack of support afforded to her, she rarely dedicates time for self-care because she is working two jobs to pay the mortgage and child care expenses. She has been working with her company for five years. Carla earns an annual salary of $50,000 dollars. 

The assumption here is that both cases rely on one income. Therefore, it is safe to say that without an income stream coming every month, it would be increasingly hard for Jim and Carla to maintain their respective lifestyles in the states they live in. At first glance, they are in two different tax brackets and salary ranges. They live in different states with their own unique topography, economic and social capital. As it is common knowledge, this is a very typical situation wherein the net income you earn determines whether you can afford the commodities and lifestyle in a particular state.

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During challenging times, people like Carla and Jim who represent the hard working middle class in America have to grasp the reality of trying to make ends meet. They live paycheck to paycheck whilst knowing that as the cost of living rises, they will constantly find themselves in strenuous financial circumstances.

During recent events that placed families in turmoil across the nation, I came to realize that not one of us is an exception. We are the rule. During these times, people had to resort to temp jobs to weather the storm knowing very well the return on investment would not be as high as their regular salaries. At an impressionable age, our families and friends tell us to go to school, get good grades and that everything else would fall into place. Sadly, even with a college degree--let alone a high school degree--families still struggle to make ends meet on a daily basis, looping all of us in some sort of financial fragility.

Financial fragility cuts across race, gender, religion and disability. In the same fashion, it takes into account internal and external factors beyond our control that dictate the wealth gap in a given country. Living costs is another component that inform wealth disparities and depend on a range of factors from which section you live in a particular state, town or neighborhood, occupation and stage of life.

Additionally, we would have to take a hard look at the mechanics behind stagnant wages with inflation. As much as wage growth averaged 6.21 percent from 1960 until 2018, the purchasing power remains the same it did 40 years ago cites the Pew Research Center.

Critics of the wage stagnation have attributed these claims as dubious and pure emotional assertions. They assert that Americans did not experience low and stagnant real incomes since 1973. They affirm that people have experienced spurts of growth in terms of per capita consumption from 1973 to 2004. Even when a New York Times article cited factors such as the decline of labor unions, lagging educational attainment, non-compete clauses, where you waive your right to work for your company’s competitors, and other restrictions that created a noticeable shift in employers being willing to raise employee wages. This debate on living paycheck to paycheck is akin to an uphill battle as middle-class earners strive to climb to the top against the backdrop of systemic factors such as  income inequality that press against them to achieve real progress.

Though Americans have enjoyed the value of job benefits such as retirement pensions, transit subsidies and health benefits; many studies have shown the operational complexities of large institutions and the need for them to exercise corporate responsibility to remove the scaffold that widens the wealth gap within several communities in relation to living costs.

Acting responsibly does not mean you are immune to facing low valleys or hard times. I was listening to a  podcast on radical personal finance called Empathy and Personal responsibility when Living Paycheck-to-paycheck. During the exchange, the host Joshua Sheats argued that people should have been prepared for the shutdown. Even though there is wisdom in anticipating the worst on the horizon and exercising prudent spending, racism and public shame are deeply embedded  in the country's system that does not work for the most vulnerable.

During the last two weeks, I reflected on some comments not to say to someone who lives paycheck to paycheck:

> You should have saved more money: Wealth is built while building an understanding of your current situational context and limitations. It is important to understand the insensitivity of the comment especially when you have not spent one day in the shoes of this individual. Unexpected expenses arise throughout the year hence there may not be enough to save in an emergency fund. It also gives the impression of a lack of empathy when people go through financial struggles. Not everyone can pull themselves by their bootstraps overnight. > You took this job so you should have known this storm was coming: Hard times happen irrespective of your race, class, social status and gender. When hard times affect people, it does not have a set timeline. To make such a statement implies that you are debasing or devaluing someone's means of livelihood. Instead choose to do the following for anyone who is in need of help and support: > Give with your whole heart without expecting something in return: Imagine being in a situation where you have to ask for support. For some this may be an uncomfortable and strenuous situation, take the time to show compassion and understanding towards those who may be going through tough times.
> Do not make brisk judgments because this tragedy could have affected you or loved ones.. Provide support and be a listening ear because life is a vessel that keeps on giving. It is a constant pouring of opportunities and challenges unto people. Like the lottery, there is great uncertainty on when it will be your turn. So, be in the habit of giving because you shall reap the harvest in due time, and not necessarily where you planted the seed.
> Provide information on your social media platform or in person on resources available to people in their counties or municipalities so they can make informed decisions on how to take advantage of these opportunities. The shutdown taught me that living paycheck to paycheck is an ongoing battle people face daily. It is important to remember that not everyone starts at the same place in life. We must always show compassion and understanding towards the things or circumstances we do not fully understand. Sometimes, this might be a test to reveal your character and your power to give to others who may be in a tough spot. So I welcome you to challenge how you will show up next time for others in times of a crisis.


1. Why so many Americans in the Middle Class Have No Savings.

4. For most U.S. workers, real wages have barely budged in decades. 2018. 

5. How Noncompete Clauses Keep Workers Locked In. 2017.

United States Wages and Salaries Growth. 2019. Trading Economics.

Venchele Saint Dic is the author of Journey to Redemption and Faith in the book Passport to Self-Discovery Volume 2. She is the Founder of MESFAMI Care Inc on Facebook and on Instagram @Mesfami_CareInc. She has demonstrated leadership and innovation in public health, health equity, communications, public outreach, social inclusion and diversity, among many others.

Venchele is an experienced writer, editor and native French speaker with cognate education in Public Health. Her focus is to improve accessibility to health services while supporting education, economic empowerment and counseling as critical building blocks which empower families to survive and thrive through life changing events. MESFAMI Care Inc. facilitates community institutions by voluntarily supporting families with the knowledge, skills and services required to survive in changing social, and economic environments.

Her past writing stories have been included on,,  Greater Diversity News, Southeast Queens Scoop,, The Peace Corps Press Release, DMV Daily, BlackState, Thrive Global, Gratitude Circle, Medium, LinkedIn, and the newsletter of Peace Corps Senegal, Simmons College and Friends of the Library Montgomery County. Additional information on the nature of her work can be found on her Author profile at

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