Katrina Gilbert’s life is featured in the HBO documentary Paycheck to Paycheck: The Life and Times of Katrina Gilbert which is part of the groundbreaking Shriver Report, A Woman’s Nation Pushes Back from the Brink. This fully employed, single mother of 3 earns $9.49 an hour as a Certified Nurses Aide, providing valuable care for an aging community while being barely able to provide for herself and her own family. The Shriver Report caught up with Katrina shortly before the premiere of the documentary and she shed some light on what has changed since the film was shot and what she hopes her children will learn from her.
TSR: How have things changed for you since the documentary was shot? What’s the difference between then and now, in your life?
Katrina: No changes really. Chris and I got engaged (laughs) recently.
TSR: Congratulations! That’s awesome.
Katrina: Yeah. My kids have been doing great, and with my education there’s still no change. It’s just right now, the finances aren’t there for the tuition. So, that’s the only thing stopping me with that.
TSR: And why wouldn’t you qualify for a scholarship or other aide?
Katrina: Well, we tried with the Pell Grant. When I was going for my LPN and I was married to Jeremy (Katrina’s ex-husband) and he was going through all his problems, and I had gotten physically ill from a depression medicine they had put me on. And it put me in the hospital. And then they thought I had a brain aneurysm. And so I missed too many days of nursing school. And because of that they kicked me out of the program so we have to go all the way back to 2008 and get all those medical records. And notes from doctors and all that. And get it all appealed or send it through the appeal process and see if it gets approved or not.
TSR: Regarding childcare, how has the ability to put your children in a safe place while you work helped you stay on your feet?
Katrina: I think that, the country needs more places like Chambliss Center, that are open twenty four hours a day for us single parents. For single mothers that can’t get first shift jobs and that need second shift or third shift – they would have that safe place for their children to go, while they worked. It’s very important. I mean, it means a lot to me to have Chambliss Center, and they help out tons of families and if it wasn’t for them I don’t what a lot of people would do.
TSR: I know you were there when President Obama recently signed the executive order to raise the minimum wage for federal contract workers. But what level of importance do you put on raising the minimum wage for everybody?
Katrina: I was very honored to be able to visit the White House and meet President Obama and be a part of such a monumental day. It was a once in a lifetime experience that I was really thrilled to be honored and to be a part of that it’s like the, um, to raise the minimum wage for all of us, that’s really, really, really what we need. Because it’s $7.25 here, and um, I mean, it needs to be raised. It should be raised. That’s what America needs. It needs to be raised for everybody. Not just certain people, but everybody. Really unreal to me.
TSR: How many hours a week do you typically work?
Katrina: We get paid for thirty-seven and half hours.
TSR: Why is it thirty-seven and a half?
Katrina: Because they don’t pay us for our lunch, which is thirty minutes long.
TSR: And so you’re working full time?
TSR: And after paying for child-care, paying for utilities, paying for your home, at the end of the week, approximately how much money do you have left over to save, to put toward your education?
Katrina: Um, nothing. Nothing for education. No. Literally it’s nothing after paying the bills and buying gas and you know, stuff you need for the house, and food, there’s nothing left to save for education.
TSR: How do you stay so hopeful? When I watched the documentary, I was struck by how your spirit is so incredibly, encouraging and inspiring. Where does that come from?
Katrina: All I have to do is look at those three little babies and that’s where that comes from.
TSR: And what do you want people to know about single mothers? What do you want people to know about you, that might not have been represented in the documentary?
Katrina: Yeah, people do look at single mothers like, “Oh, well, she’s not married or, you know, she just slept around and now she has all these kids.” You know they look down on us, and that’s not the case. There are single mothers, that like me, that were married for ten years. I had goals and I didn’t get those goals met.
Single mothers are not bad people. Single mothers are strong, hardworking, caring, independent. They’re all those things. I mean, that’s what I am. Everything that I’ve been through has made me a strong woman and has made me so independent, that I know that I don’t have to rely on anybody if it comes down to it. I can do it on my own. I can do it myself. I’m a very hard worker.
Single mothers are not bad people they- some of them may be going through their storms, they may be going through their challenges, and, they’re going to get through it, though. They just have to stay strong and I just want to inspire them. I want them to know, “You’re not alone, you can do it. Put your heart in it, look at those babies, look deep inside yourself and you can do it.”
TSR: And that’s what you do every morning?
Katrina: That’s what I do every morning.
TSR: What do you want your children to learn from your experiences, and from the role model that you are to them? What are you hoping they take away from all that?
Katrina: I hope they are proud of me. I hope that they see, and say, “Look what my mommy did. Look how strong my mommy was. Look what she did for us. She’s made me the person I am today.” Which I hope every single one of them is going to be strong and independent and know that they can come to me for anything. But that’s what I hope. I hope they can say, “I’m so proud of my mom. Look what she did for us.”
This is a condensed version of a conversation between The Shriver Report and Paycheck to Paycheck’s Katrina Gilbert.