With joblessness at a 26 year high, many people across the country are getting a crash course in coping with the stress of not having a steady pay check. Rookie Reporter Erikka Diaz, like many of her neighbors in South Bronx, has lived in poverty her whole life. Her family knows well the anxiety that comes with constantly having to scrape enough money together to pay the rent, buy groceries, and have enough left over for all the things kids want, like going to the prom, or a new pair of sneakers.
Narration: I live in a society where you have to be tough and get fresh--that means sophisticated, with clothes, cars, and phones or people will look at you like you're nothing. And this isn't Manhattan, where a Gatorade costs freaking three dollars. This is the South Bronx, where a lot of people live on minimum wage jobs or, like my family, on welfare.
Erikka: Darina, wake up, school.
Narration: Four of my mom's eight kids are still at home.
Erikka: Reyna, get up.
Narration: And let's just say we always need something.
Reyna: I need two dollars today.
Erikka: For what?
Reyna: For my Chinese party.
Narration: All my sister needs is two dollars from Mami, so she can eat Chinese food with her class.
Reyna: I'm scared.
Narration: She's scared to ask because when it comes to money, Mami gets frustrated and stressed. She doesn't have much to give. My other little sister Darina is 12. Day-Day asks Mami for a lot of things.
Erikka: So what you have to ask for?
Darina: Deodorant. Yeah, I don't want to be stinkin'!
Narration: And me? I just started college and that comes with even more expenses, like tuition, books, and transportation.
Erikka: Right now I'm making the calculations of the things that I need.
Narration: Last spring, senior dues gave me a huge headache.
Erikka: This is killing me!
Narration: 85 dollars for my prom ticket, and 250 for cap and gown, trips, a yearbook, and a t-shirt.
Erikka: If I was rich yo, if I was rich, man! Well, not even rich, if I was just you know middle class or whatever...if I had this, I'd be a little less stressed I think.
Chris: My tux 100...about 200 and some change all together.
Narration: My best friend Chris wanted prom to be a night of luxury.
Chris: My girl, my nails, her nails. It's crazy. It's a lot. Every day I go out there looking for a job. Get an application here, get an application there. Just one week of work, my first pay check would be helpful.
Narration: When I asked my mom about senior dues at first she said "Ayyyy yo no tengo." She said "no." I was like "This is really important." I walked away. Then she called me "Erikkita," opened her wallet and pulled it out. Cha-ching. I was like "Dag!" Mami is like super mom because when she doesn't have it she always finds a way. No food in the house? Mami goes downstairs to get credit from the bodega. Or she calls one of my big sisters.
Eve: Well, can you say sucker on the radio? Oh I'm sorry.
Narration: My big sister Eve works in human resources.
Eve: I'm a sucker for my family
Narration: She tries to always support my mom.
Erikka: How do you think Mami copes with her stress about money?
Eve: I don't think she copes with it very well because when she don't have money she wants to be sleeping or she wants to be crying.
Darina: When she's stressed it makes me kinda stressed.
Narration: Sometimes my mom locks away her stress by taking pills to make her go to sleep. Once she took too many and fainted on me. I had to pour water on her face and call the ambulance.
Erikka: Right now I'm at the Third Avenue stop; all I need is a couple more stops 'til Lincoln Hospital. I'm just praying to God that she's okay.
Narration: The other way she deals with stress is much better. I put on some salsa, bachata. And dance with her in the living room. I cheer her up. I want to be able to give my mom everything so she won't stress or take pills, but I can't even help myself. When I need money badly, I tend to panic and run away from all my responsibilities...like taking care of my homework and being on time. All I can think about is making fast money man.
Erikka: What do we do to make fast money?
Darina: Sell candy.
Reyna: Would you like to buy candy???!
Narration: We start off by borrowing $13.25 from my mom so we can buy a box of sour belts. We flip that box and the next one to buy more candy.
Reyna: Would you like to buy candy?
Narration: And by the end of the day we have over a 150 dollars.
Erikka: Alright, I'm going to refill your box up right now.
Narration: It feels good. There's no such thing as a slow day.
Erikka: A lot of people like the red ones.
Narration: You're out there to do one thing and you're gonna do it.
Darina: You meet new people and you get to see how you really are inside of you. Like you know how you be mean at home, right, but you just can't find the niceness in you. When you sell candy you find it. Because you're being nice, you're not like "Yo, buy some candy!"
Reyna: Would you like to buy some candy. It's four for a dollar.
Woman: I actually don't eat candy, but I'll buy it from you.
Narration: My littlest sister's name is Reyna, that's queen in Spanish. My little Queen T! She has the prettiest smile and that's her advantage. People think "How can I say no to this precious little face?" They look at me and I already know what they're thinking: "Yeah, hmmm hmmm. You think you're slick using this cute little girl. Let me get one any ways, let me buy five."
Erikka: What do you see?
Reyna: A lot of money!!!
Narration: No more stress, yeahh!!
Erikka: It's mad phat, right? Cool, more money!
Narration: A few months ago, I was home playing video games when Queen T came in and surprised me with 200 dollars. I asked her where did she get it from. She said "Ohhh my friend had 400 dollars and he gave me half so he wouldn't get in trouble." I was like "maybe it's true, ohh I hope it's true." I was too happy about the money to really care where it came from. We went shopping for games, clothes, an MP3 player, and a ring for Mami.
Erikka: Why did you lie to me constantly yesterday, constantly?
Narration: It turns out that my sister stole the money from the beauty salon downstairs.
Erikka: Why did you lie to me?
Reyna: I don't know.
Erikka: Can you just be honest? That's all I want you to be.
Narration: I'm angry because she lied.
Reyna: I'm being honest.
Narration: I feel guilty because I wanted to believe her story
Erikka: You going to keep on lying to me!
Reyna: I'm not lying to you.
Erikka: So why can't you just tell me the truth Reyna?! Why can't you just tell me the truth! For once!
Narration: Most of all, I'm worried that Mami will get sick because she's so depressed.
Narration: If Mami gets sick again Reyna, I swear I'm going to make sure you go to a foster home or something. Cuz I'm not taking care of you! You a bad little girl! You stole $200 from Mami's friend!
Narration: You can hear, my mom crying hysterically on the phone to one of my older sisters. I tell my mom "we're going to work to pay back the money." When I say I'm going to make the money, I'll do it. You're my beautiful mom and I need you and I don't want you to get sick. She tells me she loves me and asks me if I want her to cook dinner. My little sisters and I worked two times that week selling candy in order to pay the money back. But we only had to pay 60 dollars to the salon. The owner told me that she forgave Queen T because she was just a little kid who needed to learn a lesson.
Erikka: How you feeling Queen T?
Erikka: We're going to do this thing. So just follow along. (Sings)
Narration: A few months later, I asked Queen T why she took the money. She said she was hungry for a snack.
Reyna: I just saw the money so I took it. I was like I could eat with this.
Erikka: You could eat with that? That look like mad food to eat!
Reyna: We could've went food shopping!!
Narration: We didn't buy food though. We weren't thinking about the things we needed, just the things we wanted.
Reyna: We went to 3rd Avenue and bought mad stuff.
Narration: You know how when you have something brand new, you feel brand new. Well, Reyna wanted us all to feel as fresh as the first day of school.
Reyna: That was a fun day.
Erikka: And then it went bad.
Narration: Duh, it went bad. Feeling like we won the lottery couldn't last, at least not in my family. I wonder if the stress about money will ever leave my family. I don't think it's possible. I mean, come on. That means everybody has a job, everybody is comfortable. That's not reality. I hope it's possible for me after I graduate from college. But I don't want to jinx myself, anything could happen. For WNYC, I'm Rookie Reporter Miguelina "Erikka" Diaz.
WNYC 93.9 FM and AM 820 are New York's flagship public radio
stations, broadcasting the finest programs from NPR, PRI and American Public Media, as well as a wide range of award-winning local
programming. WNYC is a division of
New York Public Radio.