Life hasn't been easy for Jillian Holt, 32, who has had to balance being a low-income, single mother with trying to build a better future for herself and her three children. The Ohio resident works what she describes as a "crappy job" as a cashier at a local gas station while pursuing a degree in film and digital media at Cleveland State University.
Over the years, she has relied on Medicare, and at times food stamps, to make ends meet, making her one of the "47 percent" Republican Mitt Romney famously disparaged in remarks made to wealthy donors in Florida. But Holt says there's no shame in her game and she'll use whatever resources are available to her to achieve her goals.
"I feel like that yes, there are horror stories of the "welfare queen" or whatever you want to call it, but most of the people I know who've had to use government services, whether it's food stamps, welfare, the GI bill or Pell Grants — these are hardworking people who take advantage of it because they need it and they grow from it," she said. "I don't know too many people who take subsidies and then do nothing with it."
Before President Obama took office, Holt says, her community was in a state of deep decline and had hit "rock bottom." Times are still tough, but according to Holt, Cleveland is enjoying a renaissance of sorts.
"The city is starting to pick up and thrive, whereas a few years ago, there was a decline like you wouldn't believe. We're seeing gentrification and a lot of growth of businesses and restaurants," Holt said. "We're improving."
Holt said that "despite what Mitt Romney may think" people of all ages are taking responsibility for their lives and seeking opportunities in higher education and vocational training to better themselves and their families, including at her university, which once catered primarily to older students.
That is not to say her community doesn't still face challenges. Holt, who has two school-aged children, is particularly concerned about the public school system.
"Schools are basically underachieving. They're underachieving but getting better. A lot of extra-curricular activities have been cut, teachers have been downsized and classrooms are overcrowded," Holt said.
It is her hope that these issues will be addressed if Obama is re-elected. She also would like to see more focus on infrastructure, which would bring back "good-paying jobs, not like my Speedway job, but jobs that pay a living wage like those that were here at one point in time." And Holt wants to see Obamacare fully implemented so that she and others won't face her "worst nightmare" of being unable to seek health care when needed.
Holt is no fan of Romney, and like many Democrats, sees him as a flip-flopper. But if he's elected, she said, she hopes he will flip back to the Massachusetts moderate he once was, especially when it comes to women's health care rights.
"I hope people pay attention to what Romney says he plans to do because he doesn't mean what he says or say what he means," she said. "He says what he thinks people want to hear."
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