When Prosperity Ends Abruptly

Sidebar to cover story, “Poverty Comes Home
Summer 2010, Elmhurst College’s Prospect magazine
By Barbara Rose

A casting director might place John Moore in a Starbucks line, a computer bag slung over his shoulder and a Blackberry in his upturned palm. So it’s no surprise he attracts stares in a line to register for charity medical care.

“I’m kinda like the new face of what you never expected to see,” says the 43-year-old. “The staff, they look at me as if, ‘That could be me.’ It freaks ‘em out. A lot of people think it hasn’t affected their home-front.”

A corporate manager who lost his job two years ago in a restructuring, he is among those abruptly forced out of prosperity by an economic collapse that left him with a home he can’t sell, a mortgage he can no longer afford and diminished prospects in the worst labor market in decades.

A for-sale sign hangs in front of his impeccably maintained, 1,200 square-foot house in a West Chicago subdivision. He’s nearly exhausted his savings paying the $1,994 monthly mortgage.

Moore’s income plunged from more than $200,000 a year to poverty level after his layoff in January 2008 from a senior director’s job at a global software company. His ongoing job hunt in a shrinking employment market netted him six interviews and short stints of work, including a holiday job stocking shelves at a Sears store, but none like the job he lost.

He visited a U.S. Army recruitment office last fall, prepared to enlist on the spot, but recruiters told him he was too old.
While hunting work, he keeps his professional skills sharp by working toward his Six Sigma Black Belt, a quality management credential. He gives back by volunteering at several charities including the Northern Illinois Food Bank in St. Charles and DuPage PADS, which helps the homeless.

A regular at three food pantries, he recalls his first visit in late 2008. “You kind of stumble through the first time. I was a nervous wreck,” he says. “It was an admission to myself of where things had gotten to.”

For a while he stopped recycling because he didn’t want his neighbors to see his empty cans stamped “Not for Resale,” but he’s gotten over his embarrassment. “At two years (without a steady job), this is me now,” he says. “It’s changed me.”