A North Memphis Family’s Struggle To Overcome Poverty

(Memphis) A heartbreaking reality: half of the families in Shelby County live on $35,000 or less a year, and almost half the children you see in Memphis live in poverty.

In the Mid-South, if you have a minimum wage job, you would need to work 112 hours a week to make a living wage.

Patricia Whiteside invited WREG to walk in her shoes for the day, to see what it was like to live in poverty and in her reality.

Every morning, the single mother of seven starts planning dinner, because if she wants the food stamps she gets each month to last, budgeting is necessary.

Usually Patricia does her grocery shopping and runs errands before work, but last month, she lost her job as a nursing aide because of cutbacks.

“After I lost my job, I thought about the bills. What am I going to do?” she said.

While trying to land new work, she was offered a part-time minimum wage gig at her son’s daycare.

“It would be really tight. Very tight,” said Patricia.

So after her errands, she and her 2-year-old went to get a physical. If she passes, the job is hers.

She then rushed to pick up her 13- and 15-year-olds from school. They’re enrolled in Veritas College Preparatory Charter School in South Memphis.

She said it is a better education and opportunity, but in exchange, she must provide the transportation.

Family dinners are a must for the Whiteside family, so when Patricia got home, she fired up the stove.

Her three adult children still live at the apartment, so they help out. All three are in college, some on scholarships and all working part-time jobs.

As for her other children, they try to find their own space to do homework. Seven kids live in the three bedroom apartment, so space is limited.

In between the chaos, Patricia kept an eye on her kids.

In their neighborhood, she said drug dealers are on every street corner, and gunshots are heard regularly.

“Gangs and drugs, unfortunately, that stuff goes on in schools now,” said Kendall Whiteside.

Kendall is a senior at Central High School. He just got a scholarship to University of Tennessee Knoxville, so he hits the books instead of the streets.

“I’ve got to study. I’ve got to get stuff done,” he said.

“I wish I had made better choices, but now, it is here, and it is time to move forward,” said Patricia.

She moves forward by making sure her children learn from her mistakes by going to college, getting good jobs and waiting to have kids until marriage.

“I am glad I have seven kids. I am a proud mother. They are not in jail. I am not a grandmother,” said Patricia.

As her children piled up their plates and sat down to eat, they took a moment to pray for a future, because in that moment, their worries and problems seem insignificant. They are thankful for what they have.

“I don’t believe money is happiness. Happiness to me is seeing my children laugh,” said Patricia.

Since we interviewed the family, Patricia landed the part-time job, but it wasn’t enough hours. She plans on going back to college this fall to finish her associate degree and find a job where she no longer must rely on government assistance.