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Road Trip – Elena Botella
  • 18 states later, some reflections

    I just finished my road trip. The goal was to learn about the impact that credit cards and payday loans have in Americans’ lives. I’m now back in Washington, D.C. If you haven’t already read the previous blog posts, here were some of my reflections from Michigan and Missouri.  Now that I’ve interviewed folks in 18 states for this project (well 17 states, plus the District of Columbia which obviously should be a state!), here are themes on my mind. “Impatience” isn’t the problem In Sacramento, I talked to Kathryn, a 63-year-old woman with $60,000 in credit card debt, which she’s whittled down from a peak of $80,000. Kathryn worked…

  • A 20 cent raise can cause Iowans to lose thousands of dollars in child care support

    Get a 20 cent raise; lose your child care

    We need to do a better job of supporting parents, whether they’re working, in school, or taking care of children full-time. At the federal minimum wage, paying for child care for one child would take the first 26 hours of wages in a 40 hour week (if it’s an infant, the first 32 hours of wages). All 50 states have some amount of federally-funded assistance to help parents afford child care, but in many states these programs have long wait lists, or have extremely limited eligibility. In Iowa, parents lose all assistance at 145% of the federal poverty line (an income of around $25,000 per year for a parent with…

  • The space between want and need

    I’m now on Day 13 on my road trip at my aunt and uncle’s farm in Blue Earth County, Minnesota — today is the first day of the planting season for corn. It’s getting a late start because of all the rain. My next stop will be in Iowa. If there’s one comment that has come up in most of my interviews with the people who wished they hadn’t borrowed money on a credit card, it’s that they used the card for things they realized they “didn’t really need.” That word “really” hints at the notion that there is actually a lot of ambiguous space in between want and need.…

  • Day 2: What is opportunity?

    I’m now on Day 9 in the Twin Cities, by way of Milwaukee, Springfield, St. Louis, South Bend, Chicago, and Cleveland, but this story will talk about Day 2, Detroit. My first stop was the Heidelberg Project, an art installation where Tyree Guyton has used a city block to reflect on time, hope, and community. Guyton grew up on Heidelberg Street, and returned to it as an adult to find vacant lots and a neighborhood where poverty is deepening. Detroit is a city whose population is only 40% of what is was at its peak. There is no way you can drive around Detroit, at least the neighborhoods where I…

  • My plan to see America. Day One: Cleveland

    I left yesterday on a cross-country road trip. I’ll be back in Washington, D.C., in mid-July for a day or two, before looping up to New England and then back down. Part of the challenge of this type of trip is knowing that you can live a place for years without understanding it. I grew up in Charlotte, North Carolina, and lived there until I went to college in Durham. If you’ve seen the Hunger Games films, Charlotte is literally “The Capital,” by which I mean that’s where “The Capital” was shot. If you drive between South Charlotte where my parents live and “Uptown Charlotte” (what you would call “Downtown”…