Going From Middle Class to Poverty

One man shares his story about joining the ranks of the working poor.

A job loss as a divorce can be all it takes to go from middle class to working poor.

A job loss, a divorce, or a catastrophic illness can push you out of the middle class and into poverty.

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Unable to pay my rent, I moved in with an extraordinarily generous family, friends of friends who were mere acquaintances at the time. Unable to find steady work, I held as many as five part-time jobs at once, including lawn mowing, selling sneakers at a sporting-goods store and coordinating funerals at my church. Unable to afford health insurance, I've leaned on my doctor, who gives me free medicine samples and treats me at a discount.

And I received food stamps -- something one could imagine would have LBJ turning in his grave.

I have to say at this point that my life is still pretty charmed compared to those I see on the streets of Washington, ragged people who sleep in doorways and can’t predict when they’ll get their next meal. Indeed, I’m down from five jobs to just two, I’ve managed to get work as a freelance journalist and as a PR consultant, I’m no longer on food stamps and Obamacare has my health needs covered for the moment.

But my life is still a microcosm of what the so-called "jobless recovery" looks like for middle-class professionals. Combined, my two jobs pay a fraction of what I used to make as a full-time journalist. I don’t have benefits. I still don’t earn quite enough to move into an apartment of my own.

Anyone who has had to rebuild will tell you that it’s a long process, particularly in an economy that’s recovering but still hospitalized. The only choice is to keep moving forward, fighting my own war on poverty, day by day.

More on the War on Poverty:

  • Special Report: The 50th Anniversary of the War on Poverty
  • Long-Term Unemployment Still Dire
  • What Poverty Looks Like in Modern America