When I met him, Michael A. Brown had his two-year-old daughter on his shoulders. He admits he spoils her a bit, carrying her around like that all the time.
“She’s got two strollers but she hates them,” he said.
Mike doesn’t have a car, so when he goes shopping, he carries her like that for more than a mile to Shaws, which is the only major supermarket in downtown Nashua. Then they take a cab back home with their groceries. He has to do it every week, he said, because he doesn’t have enough spare cash to stock up for longer than that.
Despite the little girl’s weight on his shoulders, Mike stopped to talk with me once I told him I was writing about the local economy. He had something to say about that, he said—he just lost his job.
Mike is a roofer, and work has been far from steady for him in recent years. He works as an independent contractor, so he gets paid a lump sum and has to pay for all the tools and supplies out of that money. After he does, there’s not that much left.
Still, he said he likes the work. It’s better than a desk job because you can see your work actually producing results.
“I like starting something and finishing something,” he said.
Mike moved from Worcester, Mass. with the little girl’s mother and her two older kids five years ago. He said he’s happy to have the kids out of the bigger city, but working in Nashua is tougher because building jobs are controlled by family companies, and if you’re not part of the family it’s hard to get work.
In Worcester, he said, he didn’t have nearly as much trouble finding jobs.
“It sucks to raise a kid there, but you can, financially,” he said.
With the economy the way it is, Mike said, he can’t find a job in another industry either. Any companies that are hiring seem to be just recalling workers they’ve laid off over the past few years.
Mike no longer lives with his daughter’s mother.
“We just don’t get along,” he said, and they didn’t want the kids to see them fighting all the time.
So now Mike lives in one apartment with his daughter and his ex lives a few doors down the street with the two older kids. She isn’t working, but she gets some government aid and he helps her out with her rent. She takes care of the two-year-old when he’s working.
Mike says he still has a lot of affection for his ex and her kids. And he feels responsible for them. His own mother raised him and his two brothers alone. His father was in and out of jail and never around.
“I saw how hard it was for her to do what she did,” he said.
Mike said he doesn’t apply for food stamps himself because it would mess up the benefits his ex is getting, but he said “it’s too damn hard” to pay for the basic necessities. Right now, he said, he’s got $800 in bills coming due in three days and he’s only been paid $300.
When he goes grocery shopping, he said, he has to concentrate on the basics: food for dinner, snacks and juice for his daughter.“Everything a baby needs,” he said.