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Amid Unemployment Numbers, Faces Of Those Who've Lost Hope
Originally published on Sat March 9, 2013 8:18 am
SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
At the same time, there are millions of Americans you can't find in monthly job reports. They've been unemployed so long they're no longer counted, or they're working just a few hours a week in jobs that can't support them. The Bureau of Labor Statistics also said yesterday that what they call the labor force participation rate fell again to 63.5 percent, the lowest number since 1981.
In those numbers are people who have lost not only jobs, but homes, security, faith in themselves, and hope for their future. Bill Westerlund of Snow Hill, Maryland was a property manager for churches and golf courses, then found himself out of work for a year. Companies wouldn't even return the calls of a 56-year-old man.
BILL WESTERLUND: It's very interesting. An employer wants a prospective employee to be professional in their demeanor and their actions, and yet they don't even reciprocate with the common courtesy of contacting you. Of if they do contact you, they put you through the paces such as two or three interviews and the background checks and the drug testing and then you never hear from them again.
SIMON: Sounds like you went through that more than once.
WESTERLUND: Yes, actually I happened - in the 200 applications I've filled out during 2012, I think I only actually had probably four or five active contacts and none of which panned out.
SIMON: What kind of work are you doing now, sir?
WESTERLUND: Right now I'm doing custodial work at an automobile dealership.
SIMON: May I ask how much you get paid?
WESTERLUND: Oh, $9 an hour, which is about half of what I was previously making.
SIMON: And how are your finances holding out?
WESTERLUND: It's lean. We paid our mortgage last week. I had $4 left in my checking account.
SIMON: And if I may, Mr. Westerlund, do you think this might be the rest of your life?
WESTERLUND: I try not to think that way, but unless something changes in the economy, quite possibly so, Scott.
SIMON: Vinita Honda-Koller of Baldwin, Long Island, lost her job as a software engineer a year ago as her company sent jobs overseas and the skills she developed over two decades became dated.
VINITA HONDA-KOLLER: First of all, being let go was traumatic. The day I was let go, my last day I was walking to Penn Station from the office and I called my mother and I said to her, you know, they finally did it, I am a little big shocked. And she said to me, no, this is a big shock.
SIMON: And what's the job search been like for you emotionally and practically?
HONDA-KOLLER: My self-confidence has been a little bit shattered. During one of the interviews this man was very, very intimidating. It was a phone interview. He was asking me technical questions. When I didn't answer what he wanted to hear, he hung up on me. And another interview, they wanted to take all my electronics to make sure that I wouldn't cheat on the technical test they were giving me.
So that was also very, very intimidating and I think that was the first time I cried after an interview.
SIMON: I gather, Benita, you're 51 years old?
SIMON: How are your parents doing through this?
HONDA-KOLLER: Well, they have been very supportive. Almost a year has gone by and I was afraid to lose the house because this is all I have, so I decided to rent it out and that was a major, major decision because I'm kind of attached to my home.
HONDA-KOLLER: And my parents are letting me live in the room that I lived in when I was a kid. It's a small room, but it's good that I do have that option.
SIMON: So you're starting this short-term job?
SIMON: Do you know how long this will last?
HONDA-KOLLER: I don't know. It could last a month or maybe two, three months. I really don't know.
SIMON: But whenever it runs out, then you're back to looking for work again.
SIMON: How much longer do you see yourself living this way?
HONDA-KOLLER: I mean, there are moments when my situation feels very, very extremely, extremely scary where I don't know how to go on. And sometimes I don't know if I have a reason to go on. I try not to think about that and I try to keep, you know, stay positive and, and, and I can be good at finding support and I try to reach out to friends and stay afloat that way.
SIMON: Kenita Jackson of Washington, D.C. is the mother of three young girls. She quit her job as a telemarketer when the hours wouldn't permit her to care for them. That was four years ago. She's applied for more than 20 jobs in the last few months. She gets by on food stamps and tries to stay cheerful for her children.
KENITA JACKSON: They motivate me the most 'cause they just go through life like everything is fairies and rainbows. And it should be for them 'cause they're children. So I personally don't feel like they feel the affected by our situation right now. And I'm actually very glad that it's like that.
SIMON: And I understand you're in a housing assistance program through Catholic Charities?
JACKSON: Yes. It's as transitional housing program that helps homeless families.
SIMON: But I gather that means you were in a homeless shelter before?
JACKSON: I was. Yeah.
SIMON: What was that like?
JACKSON: An experience, as you say. I have no desire to ever be in a situation like that ever again at all. That is probably the most driving force behind me to just continue to try to find employment.
SIMON: When's the last time you went to a movie?
JACKSON: That's kind of comical because I think the last time I've done it was probably towards the beginning of last year. The youngest one was still past the (unintelligible), so I didn't have to pay for her, but to pay for me and my other two daughters and for us to eat.
SIMON: Popcorn and Slurpees.
JACKSON: Yeah, yeah, all of that. I spent almost $100. I would never do that again. Going to the movies, that's kind of like going on a two-week cruise to the South of France to me. So yeah, the movies does not exist to me right now.
SIMON: How do you make your daughters proud of you?
JACKSON: I do think that they're proud of me because they see that I'm still pushing even if they don't know all the details. They know I haven't given up on them or myself.
SIMON: Kenita Jackson, along with Vinita Honda-Koller and Bill Westerlund; they are all still looking for work.
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SIMON: And you're listening to NPR News.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.