It was time to get his act together. He could no longer wait for a president to make things better.
In 2008, Joe and Steve started their own business: S&D Flooring. They thought they would save people money by cutting out the middle man. They'd lay down hardwood for $3.50 a square foot instead of the $5 many companies charged.
"The flooring thing was a bit of a gamble," Joe says. "When it was good, it was really, really good, and then, suddenly, it wasn't there."
As the economy began its painful downward slide, S&D Flooring floundered. Housing construction slowed, and no one had money to spend on luxury items like hardwood floors.
Maybe they could have marketed themselves harder, Joe says, trying to come to terms with what he saw as failure.
In the end, all that Joe and Steve were left with were a website and thousands of glossy business cards.
At first, he was optimistic the economy would pick up again and business would get back on track. He thought Obama would be able to turn things around.
Many of Nevada's long-term unemployed are like Joe: people who lost work, put their faith in a new president and then gradually lost hope as money got tighter and tighter.
Obama and Romney both know that well and have visited the state several times this year.
Joe has voted for Democrats before: Clinton in his second term and Al Gore in the controversial 2000 election. He has to think hard to remember how he voted in 2004. It was that close for him.
"I think in the end, I voted for (John) Kerry," he says. He and Becky had both been impressed with Kerry's running mate, John Edwards, long before scandal ended his political career.
In 2008, after Joe's flooring business went belly-up, the choice seemed clearer.
"I think Obama inherited a lot of problems," he says. "We're still living in the Bush years."
But work didn't come his way, and as Obama wrestled with Republicans in Congress to pass a stimulus program and health-care reform, Joe found himself mired in gloom.
"I had a failed business," he says. "It hurt inside."
Joe's kids noticed that Daddy was spending a lot of time in front of the television. "American Pickers" is his favorite show, but he doesn't even remember what he watched, just that he spent hours numbing himself.
He applied for a furniture showroom sales job once but felt he wasn't hired because of his tattoo. It shows Wolfman and Frankenstein drag-racing motorcycles through a cemetery and runs the length of his right arm. The man who interviewed him kept staring at it.
At first, he thought he would try welding and visited Truckee Meadows Community College to find out about enrolling in their metalworking classes. He ended up signing up for a five-week course this summer that helps first-time students -- many of them first-generation or low-income -- prepare for college.
The first day, he came home and threw his books on the table. He told Becky it was too hard. It was embarrassing sitting in class with kids his son's age. He didn't even know how to type. How was he going to get through English, one of the core requirements?
Becky said she would help him with anything he needed.
"Change was coming," she says. "I was going to do my part."
One of his summer classes focused on personal development. It broadened Joe's thinking and boosted his confidence. It taught him, he says, to be a creator instead of a victim.
At the end of the class, each student had to say something about the others.
"Joe, you are really awesome," wrote one. "I admire that you never gave up on your dreams and decided to go to college."
He finished his summer classes with a 4.0 average, and the college rewarded him with an $800 bonus. He waited for it to show up in his bank account before buying pens, notebooks, glue sticks and other school supplies for Sydney and Logan.
Joe signed up for classes this fall, paid for by a Pell Grant, a federal need-based financial assistance program that Obama wants to increase and Romney wants to cut. That's a sticking point for Joe. If Romney says he would completely eliminate Pell Grants, Joe might find it hard to check his name come November.
"My education right now is what is keeping me going," he says.
His long-term plan: After two years at the community college, transfer to the University of Nevada-Reno and earn a degree in environmental engineering. He'd like to work in renewable energy, make use of Nevada sunshine to produce abundant solar power.
"Joe -- he's always had big dreams," Becky says. "I think now, with a college degree, he'll be able to realize them."
On Sunday, the day before school starts, the kids are out, and the house is quiet, the party of the previous day behind them and no hint of the hubbub to come. Joe sits at the dining table messing with his shiny new possession.
For his birthday on August 22, the family gave him a Hewlett-Packard laptop. It's the first computer they've bought in 10 years. They wanted him to start college with the proper tools.
One of the first things he checked out was a Romney website.
"I like his plan for work requirements for welfare," Joe says. "That was a Bill Clinton thing."
Joe has ideas on how to put welfare recipients to work. Moms could work at their kids' schools, help with tutoring or in the lunchroom or coach sports. That would help them gain confidence, he says.
He gets up from the table and moves closer to the television when there's news of a new job report. Nevada still has the nation's highest unemployment rate: 12%.
"That's why he's been here so many times," he says of Obama.
Joe worries that if Obama is re-elected, America will stay on the same gloomy economic track. He wants to know more about Romney's five-point plan. It includes balancing the federal budget and cutting health-care costs. But Joe's not sure how Romney will create jobs. He hasn't heard Romney lay it all out.
"I'd really like to hear him speak about Nevada," he says. "Not because I live in this state but because they need to start with the worst."
Logan flies into the house with his friend Mike, who's just moved in next door from China. They have white T-shirts over their heads. Joe shakes his head at their silliness.
Ry is back at work, making sandwiches behind the deli counter at Raley's.