Family extends a helping hand

Edith Johns, 55, File Clerk At Auto Dealership

November 09, 2008|By Lorraine Mirabella

Edith Johns felt lucky that she rarely got sick and never faced big medical expenses. But in August, while running to catch a bus in Baltimore, she tripped and broke her foot. Her doctor bills came to more than $1,000.

Johns, 55, has been without full-time work since December, when she said she was laid off after four years as a file clerk at Russel Motor Cars in Catonsville. Since then she has been without medical insurance.

"After you lose your job, they sent me something about COBRA," health insurance for the unemployed, she said.

"But if you lost your job, you don't have money to buy COBRA."

When bill collectors call, she said, "I've told them I'm not going to do anything. I don't have the money because I'm not working. I'm just concerned with paying my life insurance and mortgage and maintaining the phone bill."

Johns, who moved to Baltimore from New York in 2002, made $8.50 an hour but by last year had saved enough to buy a small house for $90,000 in Baltimore's Arlington neighborhood. Without work, she has relied on unemployment benefits to cover about $800 worth of her monthly $1,500 bills. Her siblings have chipped in to help.

She has earned some extra money designing clothing and accessories, a skill she learned studying fashion in New York. She worked there through the 1980s in garment district design houses sewing samples to send to manufacturers.

During the past several months, Johns applied for numerous clerical jobs in Baltimore, where she relies on public transportation, but to no avail. Because she pays her mortgage and has no medical issues, she said, it has been difficult to find any extra help from government and nonprofit agencies.

"You have to be completely down and out for the system to help you," she said. "They don't help the middle class. Some mornings you get up and it's like, 'Why am I getting up? There's nothing to look forward to.' "

Still, Johns, who was born in Liberia, counts herself fortunate.

"I try not to be depressed," she said. "It all leads to different types of sickness, and I'm a happy person."

After all, she has her house, her health and her large family, including two grown sons and eight brothers and sisters.

"With a big family," Johns recalled, "my mom always taught us, you must help each other out. You only have you."

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