Muskegon, my town, is not the land of plenty. For one thing, the area has the highest rate of unemployment in the state. My parents used welfare and food stamps for a time when I was a little girl in the 1970s. My father was unemployed for two years and my mother tried a variety of jobs, including working in a laundry, a plastics factory, and as a nurse's aide. She still likes to tell the story of how she would use food stamps to buy steak at a local grocery store. She knew the people behind her in line were staring. As she pulled out her food stamp book, featuring the multicolored vouchers with the Liberty bell that looked almost like Monopoly money, she could feel the smirks and disapproval. But Mom didn't care; she had a family to feed, and why should we eat hot dogs or pancakes for dinner every night? She only recently told me about a dark time when all there was to eat in the house was a box of rice and cold cereal. Yes, we ate Hamburger Helper(which I hate to this day, just as Mom hates Spam, like the Monty Python lady)and the frozen sliced meat and gravy in the plastic bags(Banquet or Swanson?)
Years later, when both of my parents were working, they were like everyone else's parents, but they had managed to stay married. Many of the kids I knew from school had single mothers who were on ADC or worked full-time. The conservative 1980s frowned on this; the plight of the latch-key kids, how divorced damaged kids, how kids from conventional homes were happier, blah, blah, blah. Single mothers were not a new invention, and they still couldn't support their children on minimum wage, so these women either went back to school or took jobs doing shift work at whatever local factories were hiring, trying to earn a man's wage. Some did both, their children looked after by relatives, friends, or left to their own devices. I have only known a few women who earned a good living on their own, with enough income to buy a house or a car without the help of a man. All of the single women in my family were poor, public assistance only provided if they had children. My maternal grandmother survived on her husband's Social Security check, five hundred dollars a month, until she went into a nursing home. She ate a lot of soup and baloney sandwiches but, as another Great Depression survivor, she didn't complain. Amazing generation of people, those born in the 1910s.