Listen to Mary's story. Audio Producer: Laura Bult

Mary Grass sits with her husband Shannon and three children, Spirit, Mystic and Decimus at their home in Thunder Butte, South Dakota, a remote community on the Cheyenne River Sioux Indian Reservation. A military veteran and a skilled medical technician, she had applied for several jobs but wasn’t having any luck finding work. She was also taking an online course to get a Bachelor’s degree in Science and Health Administration, hoping that would increase her chances. Her husband was able to find a temporary job in the nearest town, Eagle Butte, 40 miles away, but transportation costs were eating up most of their income. With a lack of jobs, lack of housing and long distances of up to 90 miles between communities, opportunities on the reservation are limited. They were relying on government assistance, including WIC, Medicaid and food stamps to make ends meet, though Mary said their pantry was often bare towards the end of month. Despite their economic hardships, Mary and her husband are trying to create a better life for their children by emphasizing the importance of education and the values and culture of the Lakota people, their Native American tribe. Her eldest daughter, Spirit, who speaks Lakota and dances at local powwows, hopes to get a basketball scholarship to the University of Southern California. The family would not be able to afford tuition otherwise.

UPDATE: After more than a year of being unemployed and struggling, things are finally starting to turn around for the Mary and her family. A new hospital in Eagle Butte opened up job opportunities on the reservation. Mary is working there as a lab technician making $18.69 an hour. She also finished her bachelor’s degree. Her husband still hasn’t been able to find work, but he stays home and watches the kids. She says they no longer rely on food stamps, but they still use Medicaid and WIC for her youngest son.

  • The Grass Family. Shannon and his wife Mary, and children Mystic, 11, Decimus 5, Spirit 13, Helios 2.

  • Spirit Grass, age 13, dreams of playing basketball one day at the University of Southern California, which could potentially be her ticket off the Indian reservation where she and her family scrape by on $3,500 a year

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"Moving in and out of jobs that demand much and pay little, many people tread just above the poverty line, dangerously close to the edge of destitution. "

- The Working Poor: Invisible in America, by David Shipler

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