Jasmine Thomas lives with her grandmother and 4-month-old daughter, A’Maria. Photo courtesy of Thomas.

This whole situation has led to a very hard self-debate between making money for me and my baby, or staying safe.

Her father, Krishun Smith, and I are still together, but we’re living separately until we can save enough for an apartment or house, whichever is more affordable and available. He does help me out some, but his job at McDonald’s is also cutting his hours.

I’m living with my 4-month-old daughter, A’Maria, and my grandmother. I am an entrepreneur and work at Sonic, making drinks. I’ve only recently started back working after coming off maternity leave. I’ve been on the job for a month now, and my usual hours have been from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., six days a week with no benefits.

Since March 14, the virus has affected my hours drastically so that I’ve been working only three to five hours a shift, sometimes less, for about five days a week. This delays our dream of finding our own apartment because we are now starting over trying to save money and handle our priorities.

I’m not really able to ask anyone else for money because they’re in need also.

I also do hair and eyebrows, and sell hair extensions. I’ve had a decrease in clients because of the virus scare. Before the pandemic, I usually had six to eight clients a week, but I’ve only done five services since COVID-19. I also haven’t sold any hair extensions because of shipping delays.

My bottom line is I don’t have a savings account. I live paycheck to paycheck. I’m not really able to ask anyone else for money because they’re in need also.

This pandemic has led to a major shortage in money to cover my responsibilities and personal needs. This includes buying things like baby formula because I’m not on WIC, the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children program for low-income pregnant women and new mothers.

There was also a major shortage on the baby formula we need, and recently, it took me four days to find the correct formula and medicine for colic. My baby drinks Enfamil NeuroPro EnfaCare, which I usually get from Walgreens for $20 a can, but I’ve lately had to get them from a Walmart out of my area.

We deserve to be paid as if the world were relying on us, which it is because everything else is closed or unavailable.

My 18th birthday was April 7, and I didn’t have a lot of money in my pocket because of the major hour shortage and the necessities for my daughter. Neither was it much fun because of the stay-at-home order. I went to work, came home, and chilled with A’Maria and her father.

This time has also brought me a lot of fear and emotion. I’m still working during the quarantine while the virus spreads. At $9.50 an hour, I feel very underpaid because of the risk and shrinking number of work hours. Minimum-wage employees like me are still working and being put at-risk for next to nothing.

We deserve to be paid as if the world were relying on us, which it is because everything else is closed or unavailable.

The pandemic has also caused a shortage in personal protection equipment, which makes it hard to be safe while I’m working. I am now doing my best to stay afloat through this situation and playing catch-up to balance my priorities, needs and wants while continuing to be the best mother I can be.

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In collaboration with High Ground News, MLK50 is running first-person essays from area workers whose income and livelihoods have been rattled by the coronavirus pandemic. Here are some of their stories.

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