Poverty Simulation and the Banana Nut Bread Christmas

Christmas Tiny TimThat holiday season three decades ago, “…was the best of times, [and] it was the worst of times…” as Charles Dickens once wrote. The best of times, because we were healthy, the worst, because as a single mom I found myself part of the U.S. poverty statistic.

This memory came flooding back on Wednesday, November 19, 2014, when I participated in the C.O.P.E. (Cost of Poverty Experience) hosted by Edison Community College’s Academy for Community Leadership on the Piqua campus. According to the college’s Website, “C.O.P.E. is a powerful simulation that has been used to help many organizations and communities across the nation work more effectively with low-income families and understand the issues of poverty more comprehensively.”

The U.S. Census Bureau now estimates that “over fifteen percent of the American population lives below the poverty line.”  Since I was once part of this statistic, I was unsure that the simulation would result in a greater personal understanding of the tragic plight of millions of Americans. However, it reminded me that poverty can be really tricky, because the destitution and shame it produces silence you. Once your voice is gone, you can give in to apathy and hopelessness.

I was also wrong about not needing a refresher course on what scarcity feels like. Through the years, I have been blessed with financial stability, and had forgotten the frantic tension that not having enough money for monthly bills, rent, food, or even diapers can produce within a family unit. It all came rushing back that icy morning, while engaged in the free event which was funded through the CareSource Foundation and conducted by the Think Tank.

I also remembered the daunting challenge of finding sufficient employment, which countless Americans continue to face. Unemployment statistics can be misleading, because there are individuals of all ages who have fallen off the unemployment rolls and are no longer accounted for. In addition, the underemployed are another marginalized group trying to make ends meet on a less than livable income.

Besides, the daily struggle, Christmas is coming for this economically endangered population. Thankfully, many communities take note of the needs of those less fortunate during this season believing the Biblical viewpoint that, “It is more blessed to give than to receive,” especially where children are concerned.Christmas Single Mom

Yet even when your financial situation is rocky, Christmas comes with the human expectation that one should celebrate by giving to others. That’s when my mind recalled my own plight as a young single mother on welfare living in a government-subsidized apartment, despite a newly acquired college degree. I was ashamed of betraying my hard-fought dream of becoming a middle-class citizen through higher education. After months of sending out resume after resume during the recession of the early eighties, there was still no career prospect on the horizon.

Wanting to give presents to my loved ones is how the banana nut bread Christmas came to be. Not blessed with much domestic talent, I surprised myself that winter by mastering a recipe for banana nut bread.

I got a couple boxes of Bisquick, nuts, some reduced over-ripe bananas perfect for baking, and a dented box of foil from a food salvage store. Loaf after loaf of golden brown bread baked in my little apartment oven in borrowed loaf pans. Then once the delicious smelling bread cooled, I wrapped it in seasonally appropriate, silver (aluminum) foil and tied a festive red bow around it. Admittedly, the nuts in the nut bread were quite sparse, due to my budget.

Since, “It [really] is more blessed to give than to receive,” giving homemade banana nut bread as presents to family and friends gave me special joy. I had beaten the recession Grinch who had tried to steal Christmas.

When one is able to give something – anything – hope arises in the midst of lack. Hope for a brighter future and better life!

Christina Ryan Claypool is a freelance journalist and inspirational speaker. Contact her through her Website at www.christinaryanclaypool.com . This column was originally published in the Sidney Daily News and the Piqua Daily Call.


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Unemployment and the over 50 worker


Younger workers can be more desirable for full-time positions than those over 50.

Younger workers can be more desirable for full-time positions than those over 50.

Recent unemployment statistics look like things are getting better. Yet they don’t adequately count those seeking jobs who have fallen off the rolls or just given up. Nor do they reflect the underemployed who deserve better.

For me, this unemployment lesson began innocently one night in a busy Ohio coffee shop. The brightly lit coffeehouse seemed particularly inviting with the smell of freshly brewed beans filling the air.

The 20-something employee was a professional young lady destined for greater things. While she was preparing my skinny caramel latte, I absentmindedly asked, “Are you in school?”

Unfortunately, I had hit an obvious nerve. The brunette barista began pouring out her tragic tale of finishing college, landing her dream job then just as quickly being downsized. In the midst of this tirade, she mentioned something about owing a fortune in school loans.

With mounting agitation, the café server finally revealed the real culprit responsible. It turned out to be me because she blamed all the folks over 50 who refuse to retire as the reason young people can’t find a decent job. Instantly, my delicious java tasted as bitter as her unlined face looked.

Since I’m a journalist, I thought that explaining my side of the story might enable her to better understand life through bifocals.

For example, bitter barista probably doesn’t realize that our erratic retirement accounts aren’t what they once were. A volatile stock market, lack of savings, reduced home equity and longer life spans force folks into staying on the job. This probably won’t improve for future generations, since according to the U.S. Social Security Administration’s website, ssa.gov, 50 percent of the current 158 million American workers have no private pension plan, and 31 percent have no savings earmarked for retirement.

Besides economic need, there’s the ingrained work ethic that many boomers share. Admittedly, countless wage earners look forward to retirement to enjoy spending time with grandchildren and playing golf. But for others, our life purpose centers on the societal contribution that we make through our profession.

How about a word picture representing the heart cry of the over-50 displaced worker? Remember being a child sprawled out on your living room floor with a coloring book and crayons. While you were carefully coloring, staying in the lines, meticulously choosing each color, suddenly you heard your mother’s voice informing you that it was bedtime. If you were like me, you frantically wailed, “But I’m not done yet.”

But some baby boomers are done, even though they don’t want to be. According to recent AARP statistics, individuals over 55 have unemployment levels that have more than doubled since 2007.

In addition, a Reuters’ Money article by Mark Miller headlined “Older unemployed workers half as likely to get hired” outlines the challenge for aging Americans. Miller cites research from the Urban Institute displaying that seasoned employees are less likely to lose their jobs due to seniority. But if they do with the exception of successful C-level executives, it’s probably going to be an uphill battle for them to find new full-time employment.

This subtle, unspoken discrimination against mature workers was birthed in the dark days of recession. Employers can’t afford to hand over a coveted vacancy to an aging candidate who they fear might not be tech savvy or could increase their health insurance premiums and claims.

In fairness to skinny latte lady, her own path was never supposed to include being a barista with a college degree or moving back in with her parents to save money. Even though it might seem like a young-eat-old-worker world out there, coffee girl is desperately looking for a real job to call her own.

Older unemployed individuals aren’t giving up either. Experience can still open a door for part-time or consulting opportunities. You may be making less per hour than you could get for babysitting the neighbor’s kids. Nevertheless, you take it, proud to be part of the workforce again.

Others are opening small businesses to put themselves back to work. Information reported by Dane Stangler for the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation shows boomers aged 55 to 64 account for the “highest rate of entrepreneurial activity” this past decade.

Bottom line, if you can’t find a job, you can create one. As a past small business owner, I know that being an entrepreneur is risky, especially in this economy. But if you are like me, I’ll bet you always told your mother, “Please, give me a little more time. I’m not done yet.”




Christina Ryan Claypool is a freelance journalist and inspirational speaker. Contact her through her website atchristinaryanclaypool.com.




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