Living on the Line: Angie Smith

Aug 29, 2014

Angie Smith displays graphs that depict her happiness over the course of her life and her income.
Credit Chad Lampe

Angie Smith is in the middle, both literally and figuratively. She’s a single mom in the middle of raising two kids. She’s in the middle of updating and moving into a home built by her late grandfather. She’s in the middle of her life, at 42-years-old mostly marked with low income jobs starting at 18.

But that wasn’t her plan. Her childhood dream was to work aboard a ship for Greenpeace, protecting whales. She still wants to work in an environmental field.

So, what set her on this path of persistent low wages?  A number of things. She’s an introvert, she switched schools quite a bit growing up.  But what sticks out to her is when she was a senior in high school and the principal told her she would never be anything, advising her to quit school. And she did.

She had a few rebellious years, but then she met a boy, fell in love, got her GED and started down the path of various jobs. She planned for her son at the age of 24 and then started a nursing school program in Paducah. But along came her second child and she hasn’t been back to school since.

Despite her challenges, Angie Smith finds that there is a lot to be happy about.

“I don’t want much. I’ve lost people that I love and so I have people that I love and they make me happy to have them. That’s huge. Family. Friends. And then I don’t like to shop, I don’t like to get my nails done. I may get my hair cut and maybe some highlights, maybe twice a year. So I’m not a shopper. I would rather be hiking or gardening, outdoors free stuff. So I have a happy medium with that. I read a lot also, and so there’s a peace about that. It’s a calming, it’s a getaway. And plus I’m just that way. I don’t know I was just born that way. I’m just a happy person.”

Her sunny disposition is admirable, but financially, Angie hanging on by a thread. Her primary source of income depends on house cleaning and her clients have dropped off. She makes barely enough to pay the bills, with none left over to fill her tank with gas, get school supplies for her kids, or meet any  other day-to-day needs.

“There’s never any money to save. There’s never an emergency stash of cash,” Angie said. “I cannot have something break down. That’s it. I mean, it’s just done. Because there are no funds for whatever mishaps.”

Angie’s professions have been highly dependent on the local economy. Simply put, if people are struggling financially some of the first expenses they cut are the so-called luxury items like dog grooming, manicures and house cleaning. Those unstable jobs have prompted Angie to weave in and out of social and financial support networks for 18 years.

“A lot of people don’t even know that I receive help, but they are so aggressively angry about it… I don’t know what to say to those people because I don’t think there’s anything you can say. I don’t think they’re going to hear it,” Angie said.

“I don’t think they are in reality.... They don’t watch the numbers on the gas and make sure they don’t go over ten dollars because that’s all they’ve got to put in it. They don’t have to worry about anything. And so they’re not in the reality that other people are in. There’s no way they could be, you know. But why is it so easy to judge somebody and be so angry about it. Because they think that all their tax money, all their extra money is going to that waste for needing help.”

Angie believes there will be a time in her life when she won’t have to worry about money. She has accomplished her goals of owning her grandfather’s house and to be published, among others. Her last ambition is to be financially stable, and she says she’ll do whatever it takes to meet that goal.

According to an Urban Institute report, roughly 50% of those who become poor get out of poverty a year later, and the vast majority experience poverty spells of less than 4 years. But despite some of the best intentions and efforts, the longer a person has been poor the less likely he or she is to escape poverty.

Angie believes that part of her path to financial stability includes her blog, SmithShack71. It’s a collection of her musings and photos. She’s been paid to write one article and she’s hoping that snowballs into a regular paid job. But she’s aware it’s idealistic.

In the meantime Angie continues to scrape by and work on her two-bedroom country home for her family of three. But, there’s one thing she continues to need and that’s hope as bills on a home improvement credit card mount and her mortgage begins in October.

  This story is part of a WKMS News Documentary Living on the Line. Living on the Line tells the story of three families, each making less than a living wage. They share stories of dealing with hardships, trying to move forward and staying optimistic in spite of their situations. Each family has hope for better days and works to get out of poverty.