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Living on the Line: Joseph Lee Taylor

Whitney Jones

Joseph Lee Taylor grew up in a poor family. His father traveled as a truck driver and his mother had an injury when he was in high school that kept her from her job as a secretary.

Joseph worked to help support his family and take care of his mother, but doing so made it difficult to successfully finish college.

“It’s very difficult for someone say in that situation to say how am I going to get out of this,” Joseph said. “I do not see a way out to better myself yet bring everybody else with me without abandoning them.”

And Joseph is right. A Brookings Institute report shows on average children born into poverty have about a 40 percent chance of staying in poverty. It is a daunting task, one Joseph tried to overcome by joining the military.

His hard decision to enlist in the Army led him to serve for five years all around the world. A few months after he finished serving, Joseph went to work for USEC at the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant as a federal peace officer. He was doing well then, with a starter home and enough income to not worry about making ends meet.

But with the closure of USEC and the gaseous diffusion plant and several rounds of layoffs in the past year, Joseph is now left with no job and a mortgage to pay. He is determined to start a new career as an accountant.

For now he relies on unemployment and his GI Bill to go to school, but those both run out in the next year. Joseph plans on getting a part-time job in addition to his student worker job so he can finish his bachelor’s degree and maybe even get a graduate degree.

But he knows that he is teetering on the edge of poverty. He is determined to keep working toward another career even though that means he has to go without time for friends and without many of life’s luxuries.

  This story is part of a WKMS News Documentary Living on the Line. Living on the Line tells the story of three families, each making less than a living wage. They share stories of dealing with hardships, trying to move forward and staying optimistic in spite of their situations. Each family has hope for better days and works to get out of poverty.

Hear the full documentary here.

Whitney grew up listening to Car Talk to and from her family’s beach vacation each year, but it wasn’t until a friend introduced her to This American Life that radio really grabbed her attention. She is a recent graduate from Union University in Jackson, Tenn., where she studied journalism. When she’s not at WKMS, you can find her working on her backyard compost pile and garden, getting lost on her bicycle or crocheting one massive blanket.
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