By Hannah Rappleye, NBC News
PHILADELPHIA — On some days, Yolanda Williams says she wonders why it’s so hard to stay alive. “I’m working as hard as I can. Every time I talk to my boss I ask, ‘Is there any more work?’”
Williams works part-time as a home-health aide so that she can also attend the Kaplan school to study medical billing. For about 17 hours a week of work, at $10 an hour, she takes home about $298 every two weeks, which she uses to support her disabled husband and her 21-year-old daughter, both of whom are unemployed.
“I’m trying to go to school so I can get a better job, so I can get off welfare,” added Williams, who receives food stamps and Medicaid. “If that means I have to be on the bus 24 hours a day, I’ll do it.”
Her weekly toil – which includes nearly 30 hours on buses – underscores one of the truths of life for the millions of American living with poverty: it’s expensive to be poor.
Williams and her family live in north Philadelphia. She spends her check only on the essentials: rent, gas and electric, bus passes, a phone. She doesn’t have cable or internet.
“If you own a home, plus childcare, plus commuting costs you can be well above poverty and still not be able to make ends meet,” said Professor Scott Allard, an expert in poverty and the social safety net at University of Chicago. “You’re not doing anything wrong. You’re playing by the rules but you’re not making it.”