Michael once owned a robust contracting business. Back then, he could afford just about anything he wanted. But after the 2008 economic downturn and the death of his wife, he’s been hard-pressed to put food on the table.
1. The Downturn
Michael: I’ve been a licensed contractor since 1983, but not anymore because I didn’t have enough money to renew my license. So there was a possibility that if I get the money, I can go back and get my old number. But I don’t know if that’s something I want to do because you’ve got to have insurance, which costs two grand a year, minimum. And I just don’t have that money anymore. At one time, I was making a lot of money. I used to have five trucks and 28 guys when business was great. And in Maryland, normally, business is always good. But when we hit around 2008, 2009, everything, it was gone because of the economy, the real estate crunch, all that. No one was spending money. That’s when things started to go bad.
2. Stretching Thin
Michael: I had to have a vehicle so I could work. It’s got over 200,000 miles. I paid $12,000 for it because it’s financed. I mean, $12,000 for it! A 14 year old truck — you got to be out your mind . . . but I had no choice! So I had a very minimal money. Matter of a fact, they’re calling, and I’m late on that payment. I’ve just got to have it paid by the 15th or they’re going to come and repo that. But I should have enough money with this check Monday. I just sent out $500 for rent, which I owe another $176, and then I owe $343.35 for the truck so I’ll have it. But anyway, where was I? I forgot.
3. Teetering on the Brink
Michael: So, um, I been working at the route even though I just started. And I become one of the best already in the warehouse. So when I get into something I want to work at, there’s a possibility this check this week will be over $600, which is great because I need it! And I’m trying to pick up — my computer’s in the pawn shop and so I can get my computer back. I can start working Craigslist again, and I can get some day money so I can get this bill paid. I’m a step from being homeless, and I’m a step away from making it again.
4. Digging Deep
Michael: Well, sometimes, you know, you think of a lot of things, you know? You think about giving up, and is it worth it? Would I be off better dead than going through this? You know, why has God put me in this position? Things like that. But then, you dig down deep and you quite feeling sorry for yourself. You can’t do that. It’s not good. So you just lift yourself up and you get busy. That’s what I do.
5. The Catch 22
Michael: I take priority. Whatever bills got to be paid, whatever has to be done, so they don’t take it or turn it off. I try to pay that first. Then, what’s most important to me is working. I got to work. If I don’t work, I have no money. So I look at it — the truck gets me to work, allows me to work. So that’s priority. So gas. It overheats, so I have to put water in it, every day, every night. I have no heat in that truck, when I drive. There’s no heat. [Laughter.] There’s no heat in that truck!
So I gotta keep that truck moving. I have to keep that truck. That truck’s costing me a fortune. If I could get rid of that truck, I’d be okay but I have no choice right now. When you’re poor, you got to pay to pay. They increase your rates. They take advantage of you, constantly. It costs you more when you’re poor.