Going to College Without a Safety Net

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Photo: Brett Myers/Youth Radio

Since my junior year of high school, I’ve been saving up money for college by working at a fast food restaurant.

I regularly work the closing shift, which means getting home around 3:30 in the morning. During my breaks, I often sit at the tables in front of the restaurant and scroll through my Snapchat only to see pictures of my friends out at parties, which always hurts a little. It feels like I’m missing out on the fun of being a teenager.

At the same time though, the sizzling grills, bubbling fryers, and orders being yelled out sometimes provide a welcome distraction from worries I have about my future.

We never really talked about it, but I grew up knowing that my family would not be able to help me with tuition. So even though I was accepted to a four-year university, I decided to go to community college for my first two years to save money.

My family has always been economically vulnerable — something a recent survey, called GenForward, from the University of Chicago, says is common among black and Latino youth. The survey asked millennials how an unexpected bill of a thousand bucks would affect them.

I know what this kind of sudden expense feels like because it just happened to my family.

Last month, I was getting ready for school, when I walked into the kitchen and saw my dad on the phone looking worried. His work truck had been stolen during the night with all of his tools for flooring inside.

He’s the primary breadwinner. But without his tools, he couldn’t work.

We had just enough savings that he was able to buy the minimum amount of equipment and with an old pickup truck, he got back to work within a few days.

It was a very close call. My family was able to stretch to cover this loss, but who knows, what if there’s a next time? This is a question I’m taking with me as I step into my future. I’m hopeful, but also very aware that I don’t have much of a safety net.

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