Behind the depressing unemployment statistics lie grim stories of people dealing — some better than others — with sudden, equally grim changes in their lives.
For Elaine Moore Kane, 47, losing her $15-an-hour data-entry job at the Fulton County Courthouse in Atlanta has left her getting by on what she can “rake, scrape and borrow — and God's grace.” Her condo is in foreclosure, and she expects her car to be repossessed any day.
Kane readily acknowledges that, technically speaking, she quit her job to care for her 72-year-old mother, who has dementia, diabetes and asthma. Although the recently passed economic stimulus bill includes an unemployment insurance “modernization” program that would cover her situation, she's ineligible.
Kane has been in the workforce for a long time, having worked as a hotel clerk and a home health-care aide, among other jobs. But she's never faced such a drought of openings. “I frequent the Department of Labor for job searches. I try to create opportunities,” she says, in a hopeful tone.
For now, Kane at least has a roof over her head. As a caregiver, she's authorized to live in her mother's government-subsidized apartment. But Kane's resources extend virtually no further.
Mitchell Rice — a 62-year-old machinist laid off last year after nearly a lifetime's work at Manchester Tool Co. of Akron, Ohio — would seem to have far more in the way of specialized experience. But, he says, “There doesn't seem to be anything out there.”
Rice does receive unemployment insurance, but he and his wife are paying the full $630 monthly cost of health insurance under COBRA — the program that allows laid-off workers to keep their coverage if they pay for it. Under the stimulus bill, the federal government will pay 65 percent of COBRA participants' costs, but Rice says he was told he was ineligible. “I'm going to contact a congressman or someone,” he says.
“You go through a period where you're real upset,” Rice says of the layoff. “Then you realize you're not going to have a job anymore.”
At age 36, Savoie Lockhart of Atlanta is not in a position to quit trying. But she's not having much luck. “I haven't been able to find anything,” says Lockhart, who worked for more than eight years as a human resources officer for Wayne Farms, a poultry-processing company. The firm closed the plant where Lockhart had worked.
Now, the 401(k) account that represented Lockhart's savings is nearly tapped out. Getting by — barely — on $300 a week in unemployment insurance, Lockhart was planning to move out of her $855-a-month apartment into one renting for $500.
On the positive side, Lockhart has a son in college, on a full football scholarship at the University of Louisiana at Monroe. Another son, though, is still in high school. “I'm going to have to apply for financial aid and see how things go,” she says.
Lockhart had worked her way up into human resources even though she lacked professional certification in the field. Now her job search is hindered by both the dismal economy and the missing credential.
“The Internal Revenue Service was going to be doing some hiring,” Lockhart says. “I had an interview, and went a second time and they took [identification] pictures and signed us up for a training class. A week before training was supposed to start, they sent me an e-mail that because of budget constraints, they weren't going to hire my group.”
As for medical insurance, “Thank God, I haven't been sick,” Lockhart says.
Despite a Ph.D in genetics and molecular biology, Patrick McCloskey, of Bedminster, N.J. — is still unemployed after losing his $125,000-a-year job in the pharmaceutical industry a year ago. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)
Many laid-off workers may be thinking about going back to school for more credentials, but that doesn't guarantee job stability either. In Bedminster, N.J., Patrick McCloskey, whose Ph.D in genetics and molecular biology enabled him to work for universities and biotech companies, has been jobless for a year. And he's learning that a lot of Ph.Ds, JDs and MBAs are unemployed as well.
“As I network I certainly run into more people than I expected who find themselves on the wrong end of a pink slip,” he says, “more than I expected in the sense that my network tends to be fairly highly credentialed.”
Still, McCloskey, 45, is upbeat. “I know it's going to be a hard search,” he says. “But . . . at the end of the day, I'll find a job.” For now, though, he lacks health insurance. “I considered getting catastrophic coverage. It's prudent for me to do so. But it's also prudent for me to pay my mortgage.”
Another doctorate-holder in the same field, Roger Barthelson, 54, expects to lose his job in June as an assistant research scientist at the University of Arizona, Tucson, a state institution where he went to work after years in academia and the biotech industry. Both industry and academia, he says, hire Ph.Ds from abroad — who are generally lower-paid than Americans — which keeps salaries low. But he has nothing against foreign scientists, he adds.
If a funding shortfall eliminates his $42,000-a-year job, Barthelson says he and his wife could cope on her salary from a medical instruments firm. “We would have to cut back on expenditures,” he says, “and we would not be putting away for retirement.”
He shares the frustration of other scientists. “Why aren't we using our capabilities instead of having us sit around without resources to do what we're trained to do?” he asks.
Young people with fewer responsibilities are naturally better equipped to cope with the bleak job climate. In New York, Brian Pitre, 23, lost his first post-college job, at a two-person marketing agency. But as he looks for another position, his living circumstances are easing the hardship. “I can't imagine how I'd do it if I didn't live at home.”
Thanks to his parents, Pitre can live comfortably on the UI checks he expects to receive soon. He certainly doesn't feel singled out by misfortune.
“I could count on more than two feet and hands the number of people I know who are laid off,” he says. “Every day it seems like someone is getting the ax. We're all in the same boat.”