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Help My Career: ‘We are drowning in debt’: Black and brown mothers grapple with more obstacles balancing child care and bills as they return to work

For Menyuan Jordan, taking care of her three children while juggling a career that she loves has been like walking a tightrope. 

Being in the mental-health field, Jordan, a social worker in Austell, Ga., knows the value she provides with her work as a community therapist. But she can’t fully focus on work; her children need her at home.

During the COVID-19 lockdowns, when schools were shuttered to prevent the spread of the virus, work became impossible for Jordan.

Prior to the virus spreading through the country, Jordan was running a child-care center. She soon had to quit as all three children were at home, and it was her and her husband’s responsibility to guide them through remote learning.

The school sent packets home so they became de facto teachers of first, second, and fifth grades. 

But since then, some things have changed. With her husband stepping up to help, she’s able to go back to work, even if sometimes that means on an unpaid volunteer basis due to overtime restrictions. Her 80-year-old grandmother, who lived nearby, has been helping out with the kids, as well as her husband’s retired parents who are in Augusta, Ga.

Still, lots of issues were unresolved.

“We are drowning in debt,” Jordan told MarketWatch. “My husband just had to take out money from his 401(k) just to pay the debt that we accumulated during COVID, because I couldn’t work.” 

“‘My husband just had to take out money from his 401(k) just to pay the debt that we accumulated during COVID, because I couldn’t work.’”

Jordan had over $150,000 in student-loan debt. She received a masters degree from Clark Atlanta University, and stayed on for her doctorate in policy planning and administration. She couldn’t finish the degree because it had gotten too expensive. She had maxed out her student loans.

Jordan also had $20,000 in credit-card debt. “We sometimes had to pay bills with credit cards because we couldn’t make ends meet,” she said. “It’s the interest rate that’s killing us,” she added.

This included expenses like having to buy more food for their children when they were at home during the COVID-19 lockdown, and from unforeseen problems like a water spillage that led to major damage in their home.

“COVID was so stressful,” Jordan said. “We had all three kids in the house, my husband tried to keep us afloat working, and then we had construction crews trying to redo our ceilings while the kids were doing online schooling. It was crazy.” 

Inflation, which hit 9.1% on the year in June, has added significantly to costs. This summer, with three kids at home, Jordan’s grocery bill has increased by at least $500. When they head back to school in the fall, that bill will stay constant because she was slightly over the income threshold for them to qualify for a free or reduced-priced lunch. For a household of five, the annual combined income before taxes needed to be below $60,070. 

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