The basics: Homeless and jobless last year, he now lives alone in a rented home in West Akron and works at a minimum-wage job at a hotel elsewhere in the county. He rides his bike more than 10 miles to work — winter and summer — because he can’t afford the bus. He made so little money last year, most of it on a cash basis, he decided not to file a tax return. Black and a divorced father of five, he lost his job as a government worker making about $60,000 in 2008. His job search is hurt by a felony conviction from his youth.
What’s happening to the different income classes? “I think poor people have reached a new bottom in being poor, you know. I think that the rich are getting creamy rich and the middle class is evaporating rapidly.”
Talk about the rich getting richer and the poor, poorer. “Well, I think there’s probably an increasing amount of greed, you know, that the gas companies are just draining the life out of people with these gas prices, and you go to the store to buy something and it’s just, stuff is just going up and up and up and jobs are getting so much harder to find.”
How do employers react to your felony record? “I will say that discrimination, racial discrimination, has a lot to do with it as well, you know. Here you have this black guy, he’s got a felony. Well, let’s kick him to the side. We won’t use him.”
Do potential employers conflate “felon” with “black person”? “Absolutely! … It’s like, you know the elephant sitting in the room over there. I see it. You see it. I see it, but we just don’t talk about it. But it is there. It is 100 percent there and the sooner we begin to talk about that and, you know, kind of usher him out of the room, the better we will all be.”
Do you have opportunity? “I do. I have opportunity and right now I’m exploring my opportunities. … We need to re-educate ourselves and start owning our own businesses. The job I have now, shoot, in several months or today, they could [fire me]. So I have written a book. I am actually reading my own book right now for the audio book version that I want in print. I am opening my own business. I am working at that right now, too. So there’s things that I’m doing, but I am in the poor poor.”
How did we get in this situation? “When 911 happened and everybody got so scared, I think that’s it. I think we are so scared, you know, that there’s a certain segment that said we got to get as much money as we can get because we never know we might have to, you know, move to the moon. We may have to move here or there. We may have to pull up everything, so the money is being drained, I think, because of fear.”
What do you expect of the rich? “I think being rich should [mean being] more of a teacher or an instructor, an example to those who should be following behind you. I don’t think … this country is such a land of opportunity, that there should be a poor one among us.”
America Today project seeks citizen input
This project opens journalism to a two-way street. In the hope of learning what you’re thinking and getting citizens more involved in our stories, we’ve added an interactive experiment: We are offering you an opportunity to answer some of the same tough questions we are posing to citizens in the America Today series.
In addition to the traditional Ohio.com comment page, the newspaper is partnering with the Civic Commons, an online organization that encourages respectful and informed debate of tough issues from a variety of perspectives and experiences. Below are the two opportunities to express yourself on these questions:
How did we as a nation get in trouble economically?
Whom do you blame?
How do we as a nation solve our economic problems?
What are you doing differently to get through the downturn?