Lesley Perez, a 24-year-old kindergarten teacher, lives in a small two-bedroom apartment with her parents and her three younger brothers in the South Bronx. Though sharing a room with three others is a big adjustment for her after living on her own, she decided to move back into her childhood home to pay off her $32,000 college loan and $12,000 credit card debt she racked up on books, food and transportation while in school. No stranger to hard work, she holds three jobs to climb out of debt and contribute to the family household. Perez, who is Puerto-Rican, says employers are always surprised to learn she is from the South Bronx. She says her old friends from the neighborhood all either have children, have joined gangs or sell drugs. “When I see them or I bump into them, they consider me as a white individual. And it’s not because of race. It’s because of education and class.” Though she comes from a humble background, her parents instilled in her that education is the way out of poverty. “To continue learning, that’s the only escape.” She just finished her first year of graduate school and hopes to land a job as a teacher, which offers benefits. No one in her family, except for her father, has health coverage.

  • Andrew, Charles and Lesley Perez share a bedroom with another brother in their parents' small two-bedroom home in the South Bronx.

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"What matters, then, given the current rules if the game, is what kind of opportunity the labor market offers to poor workers, and who among them is positioned to seize it."

- Chutes and Ladders: Navigating the Low-Wage Labor Market, by Katherine Newman

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