Ladders to opportunity: Carmen

Carmen Photo“I pay close to three hundred dollars a month just for medical, that’s not even dental and eye [care].  That’s a big chunk of money. In my son’s situation, with [his] reoccurring illnesses, there’s always labs and tests. I had to take a loan out to cover a procedure for my son.”

Carmen is a proud mother and grandmother of a large family and has lived in Washington state all her life. Due to struggles her family faced with domestic violence, Carmen dropped out of school after the eighth grade, but later returned to school as an adult to set a positive example for her children.

Carmen became the first person in her family to attend college and earn her bachelor’s degree. “I think as my kids got older and were beginning to graduate from high school, it was really important to be a role model for them.” But even though Carmen earned her degree in 2008, she still hasn’t been able to begin repaying her student loans. “I did try to go back to school a couple of times to get my masters degree, but that’s just been put on hold.  So, I just keep applying for the hardship thing, which I know I’m pretty much using up, but I just can’t afford to pay them.”

One of the biggest barriers standing in Carmen’s way of paying off her college debt is the cost of medical care, which has been a big drain on Carmen’s financial stability. She receives insurance coverage through her employer, but she can still barely afford the high cost of care. “I pay close to three hundred dollars a month. And that’s just for medical, that’s not even dental and eye [care].  That’s a big chunk of money. In my son’s situation, there’s always labs and tests. I had to take a loan out to cover a procedure for my son. With [his] reoccurring illnesses— lots of medical bills, things going to collection, because I couldn’t afford to pay them. I have had to put off medical care for myself because there wasn’t a doctor that I could go to that would take somebody who didn’t have medical insurance.”

Because of the high day-to-day costs facing Carmen and her family, she hasn’t been able to build any savings for her future. “[Retirement savings] are very important, but if you don’t have the money… It’s important for me to have gas in my car so I can get back and forth to work, too. It’s more like survival mode like just handling day-to-day costs of living and I can’t prepare—at this point—for that.”

Providing opportunities for her children is Carmen’s top priority. She has worked hard to invest in each of her children, who have all received full scholarships to attend college. However, the high cost of healthcare, in addition to her large debt from college, limits Carmen’s ability to provide basic care for herself and her family. Unless something drastically changes, Carmen won’t be able to save anything for her retirement.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. Policy solutions such as employer-sponsored retirement savings programs, as well as universal and affordable healthcare programs will make all the difference to Carmen and people like her.

As Carmen knows, we need to invest in families first so that everyone can thrive, with equal opportunities to achieve good health and plan for the future. “Raising a family to be productive members-it takes a village. Especially being a single parent and coming from a diverse background, the supportive services that I have found within the communities I’ve lived in [are] what’s enabled them to grow up healthy and so that they can enter the workforce.”

For more about economic mobility, including other Ladders to Opportunity stories, please visit this page.

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