I Was One of the ’47 Percent’

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My shaky marriage disintegrated one night in a flurry of 911 calls. My husband ripped the phone out of the wall, preventing me from calling the police. Instead he called the domestic violence counselor who ordered him to leave our home immediately. My husband drove off into the night with the burnt rubber smell wafting into the night.

Living with him over the past year had become akin to living in a tiger’s den. There was always a pent-up tension and a quick descent into violence with him. We’d tried to curb his violence. We’d attended a local domestic violence group with counselors who met with both of us. We’d participated in group sessions with other victims and perpetrators. Being in a room with 10 other guys who abused spouses, girlfriends or mothers was kinda creepy to me, but I was willing to do almost anything to save my fracturing marriage.

Leaving dinner on the table, I put the kids in the car and we went to McDonalds. Arriving back home emotionally drained and exhausted, all four of us piled into my bed, pulling the covers up. We clung to each other like tornado survivors in a flattened landscape.

Before this incident, I was a stay-at-home mom for 10 years. I had recently gotten a job in an office to bring some income into our family. For almost 10 years my husband worked for a nonprofit that fired him for erratic behavior. That was two years before and he hadn’t worked since. We had no health insurance, but luckily a hefty savings account that was quickly being drained by counselors, mental health professionals, and in-patient mental health services.

The next time I saw my husband was in court as I sued him for a divorce and custody of our children. Despite his protests, our divorce went through and I received sole custody. He disappeared after the divorce was final and I adjusted to supporting my three boys on a salary right on the poverty line (at the time, $23,050 for a family of four.)

Thankfully, the judge in our divorce case gave me our Wheaton, Ill., house to provide some stability, but to me it was a double-edged sword. The cost to keep the house was more than I could afford on my poverty-level salary. We bought it when my husband was working on Chicago’s Michigan Avenue, not when I was a secretary at a nonprofit agency.  Since property taxes on the house cost a whopping $6,000 per year, added to utilities, groceries, and gas to get to work, there wasn’t a whole lot of money left by the end of the month. There were many nights I laid awake sweating the outcome.

One Friday in particular stands out in my mind. My middle son had a sore throat and stayed home from school. I remember that I had exactly $10 in my checking account. I was planning on using that for emergencies, and here was one raising its snaky head. Insurance from my job would cover the office visit at the pediatrician and I was planning on paying cash for the prescription. My gut twisted the second that the pediatrician opened my son’s mouth with a tongue depressor and then whipped his head around to me quickly, asking me if I knew an ear, nose and throat specialist. “Yes,” I stammered, panicking, all the while wondering what in the world he’d seen down my son’s fiery throat. He said, “Take this boy right to the emergency room. I’ll call the specialist to meet you there.”

Bundling Josh into the car I was frightened out of my wits. I had $10 to my name. How in the hell was I going to get my son into the ER? After we arrived, the nurses rushed him into surgery for a life-threatening abscess in his throat. Numbly, I waited for them to finish and wondered how I was supposed to survive this? I called my best friend from work who waited with me until the nurse announced that he was now in a hospital room and that I could see him. Walking into that room to see my 12-year-old with IVs snaking around the bed and monitors on his chest almost made my heart fail.

At the same time I wondered if this was what was going to be the one that put my family out on the street.

That’s all to say, I know what it’s like to work as hard as I can, but still not be able to make ends meet. I don’t know all the answers to the plight of the working poor, but with an election at hand, the poor have become a political lightning rod. Mitt Romney’s comment at a fundraising event caricatured “the 47 percent” who don’t pay income tax as government leeches who feel a sense of entitlement. A Democratic ad promptly took part of the comment to indicate Romney stated that he doesn’t care about the working poor, which Obama admitted was a statement out of context. Yet, it did help to start an important discussion.

I’d love to sit down with both of these millionaires to explain what it’s like to have $10 to your name and have your kid unexpectedly put in the hospital. I’d like to tell them what it’s like to be chasing a dead-beat dad for years, without child support. I don’t know if any politician can understand what it’s like, since Romney has a net worth of $200 million and Obama has $11 million. Perhaps millionaires simply aren’t in a position to understand and make policies for the poor. Whatever the case, I’m studying both platforms to see where each candidate stands on these issues.


October is Domestic Violence Prevention Month. Here are some resources:


One thought on “I Was One of the ’47 Percent’

  1. Thanks for this terrific story. It is good to see a human face put on this issue that for so many people is not only abstract, but caricatured into unreality.