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Wed Jan 23, 2019, 04:34 PM

"Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay, and A Mother's Will To Survive" Memoir

Last edited Wed Jan 23, 2019, 05:24 PM - Edit history (1)

Porn, opioids and a freezer full of cigarettes: what one cleaner saw in America’s homes. Autobiography and memoir. The Guardian, Jan. 23, 2019. As a single parent caught in the welfare trap, Stephanie Land got the only job she could, tidying homes for the comfortably well-off. Now she has turned her experiences into an acclaimed new book.
At first glance, it’s not immediately obvious that the toddler in the video I am watching is taking her first wobbly steps in a homeless shelter. Watching the tiny girl babble to her mother behind the camera, I am distracted by how spotless the floor looks. Yet in the eyes of Stephanie Land, the person who cleaned it, it was appalling: “Years of dirt were etched into the floor. No matter how hard I scrubbed, I could never get it clean.”



People such as Land are perhaps the biggest threat to the myth of the American Dream: someone who worked hard, yet found her very country pitted against her success. Her new book, Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother’s Will to Survive, is both a memoir of her time working as a cleaner in middle-class households, and a dismantling of the lies the US tells itself about the poor: namely, that they don’t work. As Land puts it, she was “overwhelmed by how much work it took to prove I was poor”. “The country lives by the myth that if you work hard enough, you’ll make it,” she says. “For me, I felt like if I wasn’t making it, I wasn’t working hard enough.”

Frighteningly, before she arrived at that homeless shelter, Land’s life was unremarkable. In her 20s, she wandered from low-paid to low-paid job: barista, dog daycare, stalls at farmers’ markets. She had none of the usual factors society would pick out to explain her poverty: no alcohol problems, no history of drug use, a regular, if fractured, family life. At 28, she became pregnant. But the father, she writes, flew into rages, threatened and insulted her.

With no family to rely on, Land entered the welfare system, moving to the shelter – where her daughter took her first steps – to transitional housing, to a trailer parked in a driveway, always desperately clinging to stability. Subsidising her meagre income with welfare meant submitting her life to relentless scrutiny: curfews and urine tests at the shelter; welfare officers wanting proof that her car wasn’t too nice; supermarket cashiers silently judging her groceries when she used food stamps. She endured each indignity to look after her daughter, Mia.

Searching for work in an economy that was still raw from the global financial crisis, Land began working as a cleaner for a private firm; $6 an hour for tidying up houses she could only dream of affording. "As long as you are willing to get on your knees to scrub a toilet, you will always be able to find work. And no one is as desperate as a single parent.” Eighty percent of the US’s 12m single-parent households are headed by mothers – and 40% live below the poverty line...
https://www.theguardian.com/books/2019/jan/23/porn-opiods-cigarettes-what-cleaner-saw-in-america-homes-staphanie-land-maid

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