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Week of 4.11.08

Interview: A Voice from Poverty

Calvin Ramsey, his wife Louise, and Maria Hinojosa on porch Calvin Ramsey lives in Alabama with his wife, Louise, and two of their children. Calvin earns about $7.50 an hour doing maintenance work and Louise works at a local motel, earning about the same. NOW's Senior Correspondent, Maria Hinojosa, spoke to Calvin Ramsey about some of the drastic measures he's been forced to take in order to survive. This is an edited transcript of their conversation.

MARIA HINOJOSA: Has your family ever been hungry because you didn't have enough money for food?

CALVIN RAMSEY (CR): Yes. That's when I had to go and kill a deer.

HINOJOSA: You hunted a deer?

CR: Yes. I have a shotgun, so I went and killed a deer and made deer stew. And I fed my family; we ate that night. But other times I had to swallow my pride and go ask for help.

HINOJOSA: How does it feel, as a working man, to be struggling in this way?

CR: When I can't give my family the things that they truly deserve, it really destroys me. I have high blood pressure and high cholesterol, and it runs it up quickly. I'm the type person that always told my wife: "Baby, I will do my best to take care of my family. You and my children."

HINOJOSA: I heard that you had a bathroom put in your house recently. How long were you living in this house without a bathroom?

CR: About a year.

HINOJOSA: What were you doing before you had a bathroom?

CR: We had to improvise.

HINOJOSA: Sometimes outside?

CR: Yes. We did the best we could. It was a hard time. We saved up for the bathroom for about a year and made every little dime stretch. We also got help from the community center. They built our bathroom.

HINOJOSA: What does it mean for you and your family to finally have a bathroom?

CR: It's great. It's really, really, great actually. I can take a shower when I get off from work. I can relax. My wife can soak in the tub. We don't have to use pans anymore. And to have warm water running in the bathroom, believe me it's really, really terrific.

HINOJOSA: Do you think that the wealthy people in Alabama should be paying more in terms of taxes?

"When I can't give my family the things that they truly deserve, it really destroys me."
CR: They should because they're making more money than we are. It's not only the rich that are getting taxed, it's the poor too.

HINOJOSA: I was with somebody who is part of your State Legislature earlier today. And he basically said, "You know, people just have to pull themselves up by their bootstraps." What do you say to that?

CR: Well he needs to be in my place. He's up. He doesn't have to worry about where his kids are going to get their next meal. He doesn't have to worry about his car breaking down. He doesn't have to worry about his bills getting paid. It's not easy. A lot of people give up. Me and my wife, we don't.

HINOJOSA: When the rest of the country thinks about a family like you, a working family, two hard working people holding down jobs, and it's not enough money. People say, how is that possible in America today?

CR: I would give them about a month because they're comfortable, with a comfortable budget. They have a new car or a nice home. Then you can live comfortably. But when you're poor, you have to worry - is my car going to break down? When you leave home, is my wiring in my house going to be okay?

"It's not easy. A lot of people give up. Me and my wife, we don't."
LOUISE RAMSEY: It's like when we left for work this morning and our car cut off ten times before we made it to Greenville. And it did that when we came back. But I always tell my husband "Well, God will let us make it there. He will bring us back." I have faith because God has helped us out in a lot of ways. So that's why I say we are happy, even though we don't have anything.

CR: She motivates me. She keeps my spirit up when I'm down. When things got hard, we turned it around. When people put us down, we'd make it positive, when people talked negative. She's the love of my life. It was love the first night, actually.

LR: Oh, I'm going to start crying.

Related Link

Jeannette Walls on Poverty and Homelessness