Longtime workers enter jobless ranks
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Tess Vigeland: Let me repeat that number I just mentioned: 598,000 people lost their jobs in January. For many of them, the first step — after, of course, they’ve absorbed the news — will be to file for unemployment benefits. More than 6 million people are signed up nationwide right now — the most since the government started keeping records 40 years ago. Half a million more applied just last week. But the numbers can only tell you so much.
Reporter Joel Rose talked to three first-time recipients about what unemployment means for them.
Joel Rose: The state employment office in North Philadelphia is packed with job-seekers.
Employment Office receptionist on phone: CareerLink North, this is Robert, how may I help you?
Some of them are hunched over computers, pecking at the keyboards. Others are filling in forms. Most of them are waiting to speak with counselors or send out resumes on the office’s dozen or so PCs. It’s clear that most of the job hunters here know the ropes. It’s not hard to pick out the first-timers — guys like Anthony Woodward.
Anthony Woodward: I worked for a company called Carbonator Rental, a company that makes the syrup for soda systems.
Rose: I see you’re still wearing the shirt.
Woodward: Ah, yes, as a matter of fact I am.
Woodward’s button-down shirt is embroidered with the logo of the company where he used to drive a forklift. The company laid him off on New Year’s Eve. He signed up for unemployment a week later.
Woodward: Just actually got my first benefit check this week.
Rose: How is that, compared to your old paycheck?
Woodward: [He laughs.] I mean, thankfully my living situation is one where the only person I really have to take care of is me.
And he lives close to his mother, who likes to take care of him by cooking him meals. Woodward never expected to need unemployment benefits. But he’s not ashamed about it, either.
Woodward: Considering so much unemployment in the country, the recession and everything, it’s not like I’m exempt from it. So, things happen. You know, industries get slow. And you know, you have to just be able to adapt. Thankfully so far I have been able to.
Woodward figures he’ll be able to find work once the economy turns around. But not everyone is so upbeat about the job hunt. Alexia Schmidt worked as a page designer at a newspaper in New Jersey until she lost her job in December.
Alexia Schmidt: I gave myself until Christmas, until the New Years to kind of mope, be sad that I lost my job, and kind of get over it. The first few days I kept telling everyone I was signing up for the dole, and making kind of a joke about it.
But Schmidt says humor only took her so far.
Schmidt: Really, I’m pretty down about it. I would never have asked to do this. And I never would have thought with my track record that I would’ve been laid off.
Schmidt says she used to be a “saver.” But now, she’s stopped putting money in her 401(k) plan, although she and her husband are still making the payments on their mortgage. Schmidt feels reasonably financially secure, for now. But she’s been in the same industry since she left college seven years ago. Now she has no idea what her next job could be.
Schmidt: I never thought that at my age I’d be forced to have to find a new career. Because the newspaper industry is not in very good shape right now.
Neither is the pharmaceutical industry. Deborah Chambers worked as a drug company rep before losing her job in November.
Deborah Chambers: I was there 11 years.
Chambers: Yeah, think about how I feel. I just feel like it’s life, and I got to just deal with it.
Chambers is flipping through job listings at the office of the nonprofit Philadelphia Unemployment Project. She says her family is helping out with her bills. And she does have one other source of income.
Chambers: I have a little job I work at on Saturdays, bartending. Even when I was gainfully employed, I always did it one day a week. I’m making it. Because, what else can you do, you know what I mean?
Chambers says she never thought she’d have to live on the income from her bartending job. But if the economy doesn’t turn around soon, she may have to.
In Philadelphia, I’m Joel Rose for Marketplace Money.
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