Janesville32.5°

'A lot of sacrifices': Single father's poverty affects his daughter and parents, too

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Stacy Vogel
August 25, 2008
— When Bruce, 26, couldn’t fine a job after earning a welding degree, his mom thought he wasn’t trying hard enough.

She took matters into her own hands, helping Bruce with his resume and sending “mass e-mails” to potential employers, she said.


Her search wasn’t any more successful than his.


“I had to step back and say it’s not about trying hard enough,” said Carrie, Bruce’s mom. “It’s about the reality of the situation.”


Bruce finally found a job making $9 an hour for a company that inspects LSI production. But he was laid off in July when General Motors ended its second shift and supporting companies adjusted their staff levels.


Even when Bruce was working, he didn’t make enough to support himself and his 7-year-old daughter, Hannah. The two live with Bruce’s parents on the west side of Janesville.


The family members asked that their real names not be used in the article.


A casual observer might never guess that the family struggles with poverty. They live in a comfortable home in a middle-class neighborhood blocks from Parker High School. A basketball hoop stands in the driveway in front of a two-car garage.


But Bruce’s struggles have become the family’s struggles, Carrie said.


Bruce moved in with his parents in May 2007. He couldn’t find a job, despite having earned a degree in welding from Blackhawk Technical College in 2005.


“All the places want people with experience,” he said. “There’s not enough jobs to go around.”


It wasn’t Bruce’s first experience with unemployment. He struggled to find work after spending time in jail at age 17 on drug charges. He worked for several temp agencies, hoping to make the transition to full-time employment. But no matter how hard he worked, the employer always let him go after three months and hired a new temp, he said.


Bruce also has a learning disability, making it even more difficult for him to get a job, Carrie said.


“He got his degree, so he’s able to learn,” she said. “He’s probably just not, on the line, lightning fast … He loses his competitive edge.”


Bruce didn’t relish the idea of moving back with his parents, but he knew it was best for his daughter.


“We try to do our best to keep her little world safe and consistent and what every little girl’s world should be,” Carrie said. “To do that, that takes a lot of sacrifices from everybody else.”


Indeed, Hannah’s room could belong to any 7-year-old girl. The walls are covered in Barbie and “Hannah Montana” posters. (Hannah chose her “pretend name” for the article based on her love for the Disney show.)


She bounced around the house while her dad and grandma talked to a reporter about the family’s financial situation, seemingly oblivious to the grown-ups’ troubles.


Meanwhile, Carrie, her husband and Bruce deal with a lack of space and privacy. Even the family cat had to sacrifice to share his domain with Bruce’s two cats, Carrie said.


“We’re trying to make it work, but it’s a strain on everybody,” she said.


Carrie and her husband are both teachers, but Carrie only went back to work in the last few years. She worked part-time when her children were growing up, so the couple have little savings, she said.


“We’re trying to prepare for our future, and we’re not able to do that,” she said.


Carrie keeps a lookout for inexpensive homes for Bruce near Hannah’s school, but he has little chance to afford one now that he’s lost his job.


“Affordable housing is huge,” Carrie said. “We have so many empty places in the city of Janesville, and then we have so many families struggling and homeless. There’s got to be a way to connect those two factions.”


Meanwhile, Bruce collects $120 a week in unemployment and is starting his job search over again.


“I just wish there were more jobs open,” he said.



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