My name is Dio Gourley. I’m a 19-year-old trans man of the he/him variety who lives and works in coastal Mississippi as a door greeter at Walmart.
I work between 23 and 35 hours a week at $11 an hour. I can’t have a second job because of how unpredictable my schedule is. If I request certain days off, I’d lose hours. Walmart is the best-paying job in town in the poorest state. If we went on strike, they wouldn’t bat an eye at firing us. We can’t organize without risking getting fired.
I get to work with a ride from my great-aunt. If I have time to meal prep, I can eat for two weeks on $60 or less. If I have money and don’t bring something from home, I eat at Waffle House right across from us. I try to tip more than 15%, but that’s not much when you only have triple hash browns and a coffee. Some of them need it more than I do. We’re all in this together.
My mom stays up until 11 p.m. to bring me home, even though she gets up for work at 5:30 a.m. When I was a kid, before Hurricane Katrina, my dad worked offshore, and my mom painted houses. We were living with my grandmother and great-aunt for four years. After that, we lived in a trailer. Dad ended up dying of alcohol withdrawal—he didn’t realize he had pneumonia. Government checks kept us afloat while Mom was between jobs. And by afloat, I mean picking and choosing which bill gets paid that month.
I now live with my mom again, after a brief stint with a boyfriend and a roommate. Honestly, we weren’t making it. Money is part of why I returned home. Both of my siblings have moved back at various points. It saved them money on babysitting, but to be completely honest, I didn’t eat to make sure my nephews could. Mom was the same way. A meal of grits and some cheap junk food every day and lots of sweet tea to keep the blood sugar up high enough to get things done.
We put our bills in a bag and draw one or two at random when the money’s tight. My plan isn’t to move out; it’s to build a cabin on the lot next to us for Mom to live in, so we can take care of each other for as long as she’s still here. Less rent and mortgage that way.
If there is an “American dream,” it’s really a nightmare. Two jobs to keep up, three to get ahead. Everyone around me keeps getting poorer. I’ve got friends who haven’t been able to catch up on bills enough to save $400 to go visit family, while the people working us to death are buying third and fourth yachts. How is that a dream? —As told to Carson Kessler
Published in “The Shrinking Middle Class” December 2018 Issue of Fortune Magazine