Andrew Dys

For York Co. poor, rosy economic outlook not in their gardens

On Wednesday morning, a screaming front-page headline announced that a financial adviser sees a rosy 2013 ahead. Great investment opportunities for those with money, bonds as moneymakers, more.

Before sunrise that same morning, people were already in line at Hope Inc. in Rock Hill. And at PATH in York. And at Carolina Community Actions in Rock Hill.

Some had hungry kids with them as they waited.

All waited for doors to open around 8 a.m., in places where the economy is so rosy that each person who worked so long and so hard has to ask strangers for help with food, bills, rent, lights, a roof.

Meanwhile, politicians decide that Medicare, earned through a life of work, and Social Security, earned through a life of work, should be changed or cut.

David Gregory, 65, a plumber all his life until his body gave out, waited to ask for help with a light bill for the first time in his 50 years of working. He is a recent widower. The economy died these last few years, about the same time his strength to work died.

“I got no choice,” said Gregory.

The room gasped at the hard, scraped hands of this man who had to turn the hands over and hope a stranger filled them.

The electric bill is $160. Gregory’s disconnect said Feb. 19. Wednesday was Feb. 20.

He faced going home to old age in cold and dark.

Gregory is asked what he thought about the bright economic outlook the economists see.

“I ain’t got a crystal ball, but I don’t see roses,” Gregory said.

His name was called and he shuffled off to a volunteer, hoping for a miracle.

Across the row sat 47-year-old Eugene Pilecki. His injured thumb is bandaged by a lay doctor he knows because, unemployed, he has no insurance.

“I’m the doctor, wrapped it up,” said Pilecki. “I got laid off before Christmas, maintenance. I always worked, my whole life.”

The electricity bill, with disconnect looming in four days, is $592.37. That’s last month plus this month plus late fees. Rent is overdue, $725.

“The landlord is evicting me,” Pilecki said. “He’s a preacher. I can’t pay the bill for the house or the electric in the house.”

Pilecki was asked what he thought about the economic outlook: Should he invest in bonds or stocks?

“Nobody here is investing in a thing, except hope and prayer,” Pilecki said.

In York County, one in seven people lives in poverty; in Chester County, one in four. Poverty tends to be a cramp in an investment portfolio.

Across the county in York, the waiting room needed more chairs for all who needed help. Karen Stokes, 36, two teenagers at home, disabled, said she lives on just under $700 a month.

“After food and rent and the lights, there isn’t much left to talk about stocks and bonds,” Stokes said. “We have another kid living with us – his parents are homeless. We couldn’t let him live outside. He’s gotta eat.”

Marilyn Collins was there, as her $1,102 a month again did not cover rent, food, lights, heat. She is 60.

Just over five years ago, working as a cashier in her 40th year of work, she was beaten to a pulp by an armed robber. The scar on her head is her promissory note.

“Whoever says the economy is good, they never saw a poor person,” Collins said.

The volunteers at PATH helped with bills from donated money, just like at Hope Inc. in Rock Hill. The volunteers gave out a bounty of donated food, just like at Hope Inc. in Rock Hill.

“This place is sometimes the only thing these people get to eat,” said Albert Dickson, 76, a volunteer at PATH.

One lady waiting for help – while waiting for a job to come through – sews quilts, by hand, to make enough money to keep the heat on.

“The Queen of Quilts,” she called herself. A quilt takes a day to make. She might get $40.

“Not enough for investing,” she said.

Nobody waiting and hoping and praying for help, tough people with decades of labor under their belts, mentioned investments, stocks, bonds.

But many mentioned government budget cuts that, if this thing politicians call “sequestration” happens in a couple of weeks, would cut health services, agriculture programs that feed poor kids and adults and the disabled, more.

Programs such as Head Start and York County’s emergency heating program could lose more than 5 percent, said Walter Kellogg, executive director at Carolina Community Actions, which gives assistance based on need, income and other factors.

While politicians are screaming about tightening belts, broke people like Marilyn Collins in York say their belts can’t be tightened any more.

If she doesn’t get help, or her benefits get cut, Collins – with the scar on her head from a beating by a criminal that took away her ability to work – said one thing will happen.

“I will die,” she said.