Letter to the Editor: Living in Poverty
by Anonymous | published Nov. 11th, 2014
I wanted to tell you that I really resonated with your letter. I have held the same opinions about the hourly limits, wages and stipends. I'm glad that someone has had enough gumption to speak out about it. I wanted to tell you my story; it's a little personal but it's nothing I'm not open about or too ashamed of.
A little bit about me; I am a third year film student out of five years (I changed majors and was set back a year) and like you, I have multiple jobs on campus. Money has always been an issue for me, having grown up in poverty. Because of this, I can't get any support from my parents and there are multiple loans that I will never qualify for. I knew money would be a problem when I got to college but I never expected that it would control my life as much as it does right now.
I currently have seven jobs on campus; I have a badge number ending in digits 01 through 08 (my eighth job was an OA). A few of the jobs are paid stipend positions and the rest are hourly. On top of having multiple jobs on campus, I am also a full time student, and I work five off campus jobs. I am constantly working to try and survive.
In regards to your opinion about being treated as adults and how we should be paid as adults, I totally agree in most of my jobs I am doing the same work as my supervisor; the only differences being that my supervisor is passing off the work to me, and they surely don't make minimum wage doing it.
My stipend jobs give me a certain level of responsibility that I don't get from my flexible and convenient hourly jobs though; it's work that I have to do through the whole semester for a fraction of what I would be paid. It's frustrating putting in twice as much effort into my stipend positions only to be paid less than a quarter of what I would be paid in minimum wage.
My off campus jobs (and most of my on campus jobs) are solely related to Film, which is convenient because I'm getting real world experience so help me get a job after college. But there are months where it's hard to pay my bills because of the cost of traveling to film and getting new equipment. In my industry, there is a certain level of equipment I need in order to be qualified to do work. So when I earn $300 for one video but the program I need to make it costs $350, I end up losing out and going in the red. And as someone who has to pay all of his own bills, including rent, tuition, phone, insurance, medical, and now RIT parking tickets (which I got because I can't afford a parking permit), I always find myself either scraping by or coming up short. Even just this month I received a late fee on my phone bill and two parking tickets, which put two of my bank accounts into the negative (which ironically cost me more money in fees). I tried to buy a single cheese stick at Bytes yesterday and all of my cards were declined. "What do you mean you can't afford this; don't you work like ten jobs?" Well, no. I work thirteen jobs. But not all of them are steady or continuous and pay me at the same time. I don't get paid until the end of the semester or until a video is finished, meaning there are semesters where I don't buy books or items that are required (programs, tutorials, etc).
Living in poverty has made me realize that there are a great deal of students who have no idea what it's like to receive support from different programs; whether it's a work study program or getting a Thanksgiving dinner from a local church. And while I have learned to save money and take up things like extreme couponing (which I am very good at), it has also lead me down a path I'm not so proud of. I have gone on dates with men for money, had sexual relations with a plethora of guys via Skype, and briefly dated a man more than twice my age to reap the benefits (which included new clothes and a $200 gas gift card). It seemed like something I would never do and wouldn't even consider, but when I was desperate for money it was much faster to strip on camera for cash than it was to wait for a paycheck.What I'm finding now more than ever is that despite working every day of the week, missing holidays with my family and skipping breaks, I am still coming up short. I save money as much as I can and budget my spending, but I am always in the red. And what it really comes down to is simple - I cannot afford to go to RIT. I get the maximum amount of loans and grants that I can and I work thirteen jobs, and still go to class trying my hardest. If my wage was increased even by a little, or my stipends raised to a reasonable amount, I wouldn't have had to move out of my apartment (soon to be for the second time), I wouldn't have to skip extremely necessary doctors appointments to avoid co-pays and fees my insurance doesn't cover, and I wouldn't have to look to older men to give me funding.
Every friend group has that one person who grew up getting free lunches from school or got donations from the church or gets better financial aid. These are the people that lose a lot of help once they go to college and are considered adults. Then their family, who couldn't afford school lunch of Christmas gifts, is suddenly expected to cover grand expenses. And unfortunately the parents of these kids can't give much more than emotional support, leaving the college student to fend for themselves; affecting their social lives, mental health and academic success.