Charity’s Story | Baton Rouge, LA

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Louisiana teacher drives Uber on weekends to stay afloat; paying back $100,000 in grad school debt

Charity Schaffer thought things would be easier by age 31. But like millions of Americans, she is barely making it.

A middle school science teacher in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, she struggles to pay her bills on time. She frequently has to move money around or ask for extensions on her bills so her utilities don’t get cut off.  She struggles with a crushing load of student loans: She has $100,000 in remaining debt from graduate school.

To get by, she often drives for Uber in her off hours. Weekends are typically the only time she can find to pick up shifts.  She brings along her computer, grading papers in the car while waiting on calls to come in.

“I had too much going on, too many bills,” Schaffer says. “I just needed some extra money coming in from somewhere.”

Born and raised in rural St. Helena Parish, Schaffer received her master’s degree in urban forestry at Southern University. She fell into teaching science after discovering a love for education and children.

Teachers’ salaries in Louisiana vary, but private schools often pay much less than their public counterparts, which have more rigid certification standards.

Her monthly income at the private Christian school where she has worked for the past two years is roughly $2,300 before taxes are taken out, leaving her about $1,600 in take-home pay. Rent for the two-bedroom home she rents is $650 a month plus utility bills of about $225 a month.

After car payments, paying her phone bill, buying groceries and gas, Schaffer says she often comes up short.  But the hardest part is not having any money left over money to spend on her 10-year-old niece, Tania, for whom she took legal guardianship last year.

“If I had more money, I’d like to be able to pick out a book and buy it for her. Or just to be able to drop what I’m doing and say, ‘hey, let’s go order pizza.’ Simple stuff, like going to the movies.”

Schaffer’s longtime boyfriend died of cancer last year, and she moved out of their apartment.  “I just had to get out of there,” Schaffer recalls. “It was just too many memories.”

After moving out, Schaffer bounced around for a few months, staying with friends and family, unable to afford the rent on a place of her own.

“Everything out there that is nice is super expensive,” she says. “Most places start at about $950 to $1,500 a house.”

Rents have been on the rise for the past several years in Baton Rouge and other parts Louisiana. Some homes are in rough physical shape, such as a place with cheap rent but a leaky roof where Schaeffer lived in her 20s.  “They never fixed that apartment,” she says. “But they kept spiking up the rent.”

Schaffer found her current home after a family friend who owns several properties helped her get into the space.

Still, Schaffer fears having her rent raised again, and is looking for better paying jobs while trying to improve her credit score and pay back her student loans. “It’s not like I want assistance,” she says. “I just want to get back get on my feet.”