From each paycheck, $33 goes to the doctor who set baby Reneesha’s broken arm after she flipped off the bed. The rest of the money spreads thinly across too many bills. Dinners have sometimes been no more than mayonnaise sandwiches.

“Better I’d never met Ray,” Ola said.

Another is Kenneth Jones of Baltimore, whose first inkling of money trouble came as a rumor around the office: “Reduction in forces, people called it.”

A father of four, he had always tried to make the right moves. He went to college and studied accounting, but at graduation he landed no job. Too inexperienced, employers said.

Then a friend told him they were hiring at Amtrak. It was not college man’s work, but it paid all right, $5.60 an hour.

Started as trackman

Kenneth started as a trackman, replacing heavy wooden ties. Then he was a machinist, and then the company let him bid on an office job. In time, he was making $29,500 a year, writing reports that went all the way to Congress. Finding his way to Amtrak seemed a flash of luck.

But he has not worked since the layoff 15 months ago and, at age 33, his pride is papered over with welfare checks and food stamps. There is a leak in the dining room ceiling that he cannot afford to fix. The children’s aquarium is down to a single fish.


Posted by:Editor

KOLUMN Magazine celebrates the lives of People of Color by giving our world texture.