Something about abortion made her hesitate, but survival was its own imperative: you do what you have to do. Angie bought a $350 money order and asked her cousin Adolph for a ride.

Adolph started up on the way-abortion's a sin, God don't play that-but Angie wasn't in the mood, particularly from a man. Adolph wouldn't be there to raise this child and neither would the baby's father. "Just drive and shut up," she said.

Protestors called her a "baby-killer." A counselor asked if she had considered other options. She had considered them day and night. Finally she was in the examining room, with her feet up in stirrups, when a nurse explained what would follow. She would give Angie a pain pill, wait 30 minutes, and return to dilate her. The aspiration would produce uterine cramps. To some women, it feels like labor.

Labor? Angie couldn't believe what she had heard. "Labor" brought to mind to her mind another word. Baby.

"Un-uhh," she thought. "Un-uhh!"
"Are you telling me I have to have my baby in order to kill my baby?" she said. "That's murder for real!"

Her legs came out of the stirrups. Her feet hit the floor. "Gimme my money back," she said. "I'm fittin' to be gone."

To explain how much she wanted that abortion, Angie would later resort to quadruple adverbs; she "really, really, really, really" wanted it. "My conscience just wouldn't let me," she said. She quit school. She quit the post office. Her months of depression were followed by an excruciating birth. After two years in Milwaukee, Angie was in a deeper hole than when she had arrived.

Angie at 30: Off the rolls
Angie received one of the first notices from Milwaukee's work program. Two weeks later, she found her own job. She kept a partial welfare check for a brief transition. Then, after 12 years and about $60,000, her cash welfare payments ended. She never received another.

In welfare theory, this would seem like a baccalaureate moment. After a lifetime of "dependency," she was fully, genuinely, that American hero, a working-class stiff-star of country music, socialist art, and beer ads everywhere. So what did it mean? Angie's smooth face puckered. "It means I be broke for the rest of my life!"

Angie at 31: Medical Smocks
Nursing aides do difficult, dangerous work. They get hurt twice as often as coal miners and earn less than half the pay. They traffic in infectious fluids, in blood, urine, vomit, and poop. They handle corpses. They get attacked by patients. Above all, they lift.

They lift people from beds and wheelchairs; they lift them from toilets and showers. Nearly one in six nursing aides gets injured each year. Nationally, the job pays about $7.50 an hour, and one in five nursing aides lives in poverty. About a quarter have no health insurance.

Angie liked the job. She liked it more than lugging mail and a lot more than cleaning motels. She liked the bright, clean building. She liked break-room gossip and the teamwork of patient care. She liked the residents and the stories they told, especially the nursing-home rebels, who reminded her of herself. "Ain't no telling what might come outta they mouth!" she said. While some women on welfare mocked the job as "wiping butts," Angie liked to look in the mirror and think of herself as a nurse.

The work tapped veins of empathy and imagination dormant in other parts of her life. One patient, as Angie moved to scrub her, barked a racial epithet. On the streets, that would have sent Angie's fists flying. On the ward, it made her laugh. She smiled at the frightened old woman and calmly explained that the epithet was cleaning her, "cause you can't do it yourself-so you might as well let me." Her supervisor noticed her devotion. "Angie has a sparkle," she said.

With nursing aides in short supply, recruiters wonder what motivates them. Why suffer all that lifting and pulling when fast food pays as much? One theory is they are inherently drawn to the caregivers' role, an insight Angie summoned on her own. "I think it was because of my Daddy," she volunteered one day. In her case, she hadn't taken care of him. As Roosevelt Jobe drank himself to death, he hadn't looked after her, either: he had been too drunk even to notice that his teenage daughter was pregnant.

Angie saw her father for the last time just before she moved to Milwaukee, and after a separation of several years she was shocked by his decline. They spent two tender hours together in a park, and a month later he was dead. "I felt so guilty,'' she said. "I did not do nothing for him.''

Her nursing aide's life, in a roundabout way, offered a second chance.

Angie at 33: Working but Hungry
To say Angie lived on $25,000 a year makes her life sound more forgiving than it was. Her tax credit payment came once a year and went mostly to big-ticket items, like cars and bedroom sets. Food stamps went to food. What Angie really lived on was her take-home pay, about $1,120 a month. The result was come-and-go economics: what comes, goes.