The New York Times Magazine, May 26, 2020: For Families Already Stretched to the Limit, the Pandemic Is a Disaster
The two-bedroom apartment near an old cemetery in Glassboro, N.J., may not look like much, but it means everything to Chekesha Sydnor-Jones and her family. After an eviction, they spent 2018 crammed into a motel room. After scrimping and saving, Sydnor-Jones’s family was able to put a month’s deposit down on a rental in this middle-class town and move into an actual home. The space is tight — Sydnor-Jones’s three adult daughters shared the finished attic with her 10-year-old daughter; her 18-year-old son has one bedroom on the main floor, and she and her partner have the other.
Before the pandemic hit, things were looking up. After a bout of joblessness, Sydnor-Jones had managed to buy a car and started driving for Uber and DoorDash. Glassboro is home to Rowan University, and she found that money could always be made serving the bustling campus. Sydnor-Jones’s partner had returned from North Carolina and began working in construction.
Assata Shakur, who is the oldest daughter at 25, struggled to find work until she landed a union job as a housekeeper at Rowan, making about $425 a week after taxes. After working for a period, she would be able to attend Rowan at a discount and finish her education. Sydnor-Jones’s daughter Assira, who is 23, learned that she was pregnant last fall and reluctantly took a job as a door-to-door saleswoman for a clean-energy company. But she found she had a talent for it, and between the commission she earned and her part-time job at Home Depot, where she made $11 an hour, she and her boyfriend, who also worked at Home Depot and the clean-energy company, started to save money for the baby and for their own place. Sydnor-Jones’s son, Lahab, who is 18, worked at Amazon for about $17 an hour and was pulling in additional income driving for DoorDash. Sydnor-Jones’s 20-year-old daughter, Ahlayashabi, was not working before the pandemic. Almost none of them individually made a living wage in New Jersey, one of the most expensive states in which to live in the nation, but with all of them working and pooling their living expenses, they managed.