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I Had a Middle Class Job and I Still Ended Up on Food Stamps at 60

Welcome to the new reality of the working poor.

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Looking back I could have survived the stroke or the recession, but not both. Last summer the bank began foreclosure on my home of 30 years, forcing me to file chapter 13 bankruptcy to save it. After 44 years of working full-time as a contributing middle-class citizen, I find myself embarrassed and ashamed that I now earn well below the poverty line and that I am close to losing everything.

The thing is, I did everything right. I worked hard all my life. I saved when I could. I educated myself. I didn't live above my means. I started my business with enough capital, had a viable business model and planned for the unexpected. But I never considered a one-two punch of a medical crisis followed by a global financial collapse.

As a result of the stroke, I have changed. I am angry at myself for not taking better care of my health. I am angry that I am dizzy and my balance is now a conscience act. I am angry that the side of my face always buzzes. And I am tired of being angry.

I am still in business, but I am now the working poor. I can barely afford to upgrade my equipment, and I only spend money on basic essentials. When the DVD player died, I couldn't replace it the same with the stereo, and the garage door opener. I haven't purchased new clothes in years, or replaced the damaged side view mirror on my car. If it's not essential, I do without.

My doctor was willing to work with me to reduce my $700 a month cost for medications. And together we found ways to lower it but I still pay over $100 a month.

So there I was, the Thursday before Christmas, sitting at my computer resigned to not having cable TV because I couldn't pay the bill, and unsure of how long I could put off paying the phone bill before they turned it off. When it hit me: I was living my parents' life. I had come full circle; from the poverty of the Great Depression to the poverty of the Great Recession. The "better life" that my parents worked so hard to make for me, that I worked so hard to improve, had come down to this decision: whether to purchase food for my belly or the medication to prevent another stroke.

So after spending half of Monday at the Waterbury Department of Social Services, I started the New Year with SNAP assistance and a state issued debit card loaded for January with $189. I'm seeking energy assistance, and I hope to afford health insurance on the state's exchange. More than anything, however, I'm working to rebuild my business. I want my position back in the middle class, and don't want my nieces and nephews to struggle like my parents did.

If things don't improve, I may still lose my home and business and then, at the age of 60, I'll have to figure out how to start over from scratch. I am the face of the new working poor in America and I am not alone.

Dennis Powers is the owner of UXB Internet, a boutique website design and hosting company located in Wolcott, Conn. Employed in the electronic industry since high school, Powers has been working with computers and telecommunications since the early seventies. He started his first BBS (Bulletin Board System) in 1985 and was quickly drawn to the power and reach of the Internet. He left his corporate position in 2000 to start UXB Internet. He is a stroke survivor, a reader and an avid technologist.

 
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