Any time you meet a payment.
Any time you meet a friend.
Any time you're out from under.
Not getting hassled, not getting hustled.
Keepin' your head above water,
Making a wave when you can...
These lyrics from the 1970s hit sitcom Good Times often swirl in my head as I walk the streets of New York. While I'm reminded of how lucky I am to live and work in a country that allows us the freedom to pursue our dreams, I'm often discouraged by how unattainable those ideals can sometimes be in an economy that is built to reward the few while the rest fight to survive.
People are often surprised to learn that before landing Orange Is the New Black, I was on public assistance, and that I’m still paying off my student loans. The truth is, we all face hardships of some kind, and you never know the struggles a person is going through. Behind every smile, there’s a story of a personal struggle. Whether we are working to pay off student loans, credit card debt, paying for elder or childcare or even trying to save for retirement, the idea of the American dream still remains just that — a dream.
In 2006, I made the decision to go after my dream. I was living in Atlanta and had a promising career in marketing, but I took a leap of faith and decided to move to New York, enroll in graduate school and pursue acting. I was recently out of college, had no money, barely any savings and was already thousands of dollars in credit card and student loan debt.
But I had a dream. So I took out more loans to help pay for graduate school and cover my living costs. Upon graduating, the harsh reality of living in the city and paying off this massive debt set in. I was abruptly confronted with the clash between my tiny budget and the high cost of living and interest rates on my debts. Not being able to afford many of the basic necessities to survive, I placed all my loans in forbearance, enrolled in food stamps and Medicaid and took on part-time jobs anywhere I could find them.
One of those jobs was babysitting. I witnessed two-parent income families struggling to juggle demanding careers, high childcare costs and their kids' busy schedules. While some families had me to help them manage, having a babysitter isn’t an option for most.
For me, making little to no money, I was wrought with frustration. Each day presented its own set of challenges: trying to figure out how I was going to keep a roof over my head, feed myself, oh, and yes, still manage to pay off my debt. I felt as though I was spiraling into a tornado of debt and there was no way out. I admit, as much as I love children, my experience during that time made me wary of whether I could afford having my own family one day. But I was left with no other choice but to make it work.
In sharing my story, I realize how universal it is, and how difficult it is to make it work in America these days. Interest rates on student loans continue to skyrocket. Affordable elder and childcare seems out of reach. And so many working women and men are constantly swimming against the tide.
That’s why I recently teamed up with Make It Work, a campaign based on the very simple idea that Americans don’t just deserve to earn a decent living, they deserve to have a decent life. We created a video that shares the all-too-typical, all-consuming challenges working parents face every day. Make It Work speaks to families and people that are struggling out there, that need paid sick leave, subsidized elder and childcare – which currently is exorbitant, exceeding the cost of housing, food and even college tuition for most families. And for women, equal pay for equal work. As of now, a woman can expect her earnings to decrease 6 percent for every child she has. These are causes I want to support because they speak to everyone, including me.
America’s economy is growing at a faster pace since 1999, unemployment is lower, more young adults are graduating from high school and more people are insured than ever before. Though we have risen from recession and have created new jobs for our economy, the income earned from these new jobs does not often allow for sustainable living. We are constantly living paycheck to paycheck in a continually evolving economy.
So how attainable is the American dream, really? As President Obama emphasized in his State of the Union speech, "We are at a position to write our next 15 years." So let's do that. We need better workplace policies in this country and working people need support. It shouldn’t have to be this hard.
Adrienne C. Moore is an American actress, singer, and voiceover artist who appears in Netflix’s Orange Is the New Black and is currently working on a new production, titled Dot, at the Actors Theatre of Louisville, Ky.
The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.
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(Photo: People’s Television Inc. Courtesy of Make It Work)