The new faces of poverty

By:  Marisol Bello

Billy Schlegel plunged from middle class into poverty in the time it took his daughter to play a soccer season.

In January 2010, he was making $50,000 a year as a surveyor, meeting the mortgage payments on his three-bedroom home in the nation's wealthiest county and paying for his children to play hockey and soccer.

Then came February. Schlegel, 45, was laid off. During the next 18 months, the divorced father of three almost lost his house, had to stop paying child support and turned to the local food bank for basic necessities.

"You've got to swallow your pride," Schlegel says. "Especially around here; people lose their status and they feel they don't fit in."

This is the face of poverty after the Great Recession. Millions of Americans such as Schlegel now find themselves among the suddenly poor.

The recession that led to an explosion in poverty began in December 2007 and ended -- officially, anyway -- in June 2009. It not only made the poor poorer, it snagged those who thought they had worked themselves out of poverty and blindsided those who never thought they would be caught in its net.

Today, 15% of the USA -- nearly one in seven Americans -- are considered poor, the highest rate of poverty since 1993. Now among the poor are the college-educated, the former middle-class worker, the suburbanite and the homeowner. They've been hit by layoffs, cuts in work hours, health problems and other crises. They've gone through savings and 401(k)s. They live off food stamps or other government benefits and rely on help from family members and friends.

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