6 a.m. is much too early for this tired mama. But nonetheless, I hear that little pitter-patter of onesie-covered feet coming down the hall into our room. With a soft “Mom, can I have a banana?” my day begins, whether I’m ready for it or not. A few minutes later, my husband is out the door before the rest of us are finished eating breakfast so he can get a head start on one of his three jobs while we still have daylight.

I know our family is just like thousands of others who are doing everything they can to make ends meet and get food on the table for their little ones. We want to make sure our two little toddlers can eat healthy, organic food, ideally without breaking the bank, so we’ve started trying to raise our own food, and drive 30 minutes each way to the budget grocery store instead of the name-brand one in town. Everywhere we can, we try to be thrifty. We don’t go out to eat, we buy all of our clothes secondhand—heck, we even cut our own hair to save a little money.

But it still isn’t enough. We feel like we are drowning most days.

Why is that? Why is life so expensive? We make “too much” money to qualify us for food banks or government assistance, and yet where we currently are, in the “lower middle class,” doesn’t afford us much wiggle room to save money for our kids’ future, pay for child care, plan for retirement, etc.

We trim our budget down as much as we can, yet somehow still don’t have enough money to save up for that replacement car that we know we’ll need soon, or to buy plane tickets to visit our out-of-state family. And that’s not to mention the strain of health care costs: no one should feel scared to take their child to the ER because they are worried they can’t afford the bill before their deductible is met, yet that is reality for many.

Government assistance programs are in place for a reason and would be helpful if they were more accessible to families even just slightly above that magic number they established as the “poverty line.” But really, I’d love to be able to help bring in some extra income, but can’t afford to.

Isn’t that a funny concept? Daycare (that would allow us both to be contributing to society by working) is too expensive. We have no family in the area, so daycare or babysitters are our only option and we can’t afford it. So I stay at home, wishing desperately I could use the skills I went to school for to help provide for our family and give us a little more financial breathing room.

I don’t have grand solutions to offer politicians or demands that they make changes for me and other families like ours. I know a lot of families have it worse than us, and yet the cost of living still seems unaffordable. A bigger child tax credit might help, but I just wish politicians would be aware of how hard it can be to keep our family healthy, clothed, housed, and fed, and take our struggles seriously.

Their constituents are working three jobs to put bread on the table for their families, and still feel like they’re falling behind. Middle-class families shouldn’t feel like they can’t afford to make ends meet, and yet too many of us do.

Edgerton Essays are a project of American Compass and the Ethics and Public Policy Center, and feature the perspectives of working-class Americans on the challenges facing their communities and families and the debates central to the nation’s politics. If you or someone you know might be interested in contributing to the series, click here for more information.

Hannah Ketcham
Hannah Ketcham
Hannah Ketcham was born and raised in Nebraska, but now lives in rural Pennsylvania where she and her husband are raising their two small children along with chickens, goats, pigs, and rabbits.
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