As part of our Bearing Witness 2.0 project, the Huffington Post is rounding up local stories of formerly middle-class families who are now struggling to stay afloat. If you or someone you know has a story to tell, please e-mail me at LBassett@huffingtonpost.com.
In 2008, Bill Hincks of Midlothian, Illinois, was earning $90,000 a year as a unionized sprinkler fitter. He says that when his company laid him off after twenty years of service, he feared that he would no longer be able to afford medical care for his 16-year-old son, a juvenile diabetic. So the father of four took the only job he could find: part-time maintenance man for Hinky Dink's Pub, a local dive bar.
"Two days a week, sometimes three, I get up at four in the morning to get to the bar by 4:30 a.m. and start the process of cleaning it," Hincks said. "I take out heavy garbage cans full of beer bottles, dump them in the dumpster, then wash out the garbage cans. I sweep the entire bar and then scrub and mop all the floors. In the bathroom, I mop the floors and scrub the toilets and sinks, and I do my best to fix whatever needs repaired."
Hincks told HuffPost that he earns only $80 a week at the bar, a small supplement to the modest $1800-a-month pension he now receives after being forced into early retirement. "This economic crisis has put me between a rock and a hard place," he said. "I am now in the position where, at 55 years old, I need to retrain myself or go to school to learn a new career. The job situation was pretty bleak, so I went into early retirement."
Hincks's wife Jean, a freelance court reporter who has also been struggling to find work since the recession, says that because her diabetic son is still a minor, he is covered under his father's union health insurance program. However, they struggle to pay for the insurance, which costs over $200 a month, in addition to their son's myriad out-of-pocket medical expenses. Hincks says she shudders to think about what might have happened if the recent health care reform bill hadn't passed.
"I wrote an open letter to Sarah Palin, because I hear her constantly saying, 'Hows that hopey changey thing workin' out for you?' Well, if the health care bill didn't pass, at the age of 18, my son would no longer be able to get health insurance. Juvenile diabetics are considered totally uninsurable. I made calls to various insurance brokers, and I was not even able to get a quote for a plan."
Hincks said that she and her family are a prime example of how a struggling middle class family can directly benefit from many of President Obama's economic relief programs.
"We would probably be homeless right now if it weren't for the HAMP program, which helped us modify our mortgage from $1700 to $787 a month," Hincks said. "COBRA has helped us out a lot with health insurance, and while we thought we weren't going to be able to afford to send my 21-year-old son Joe to college, he is now able to go for free on a Pell Grant. In these days of anti-government rhetoric, I want people to know that if it wasn't for our government, my family, along with many other families, would be homeless and hungry."
Bill and Jean Hincks recently filed for bankruptcy, having accumulated a mountain of debt when Bill was first unemployed and trying to pay the pre-modified mortgage on their 3-bedroom house. Despite these challenges, Jean says she is grateful for the help they have received and is trying to stay positive about the future.
"My wish would be for President Obama to know how thankful I am that he has instituted these safety nets to keep us afloat during these hard economic times until we can get back on our feet again," she said.
The internet's best stories, and interviews with the people who tell them. Learn more