Unemployed Workers Try To Keep Their Spirits Bright
LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:
That poll by NPR and the Kaiser Family Foundation shows that the longer someone is out of work the more it affects that person's emotional health, physical behavior and, of course, their financial standing.
From member station WBEZ in Chicago, Tony Arnold reports on two Chicagoans feeling the toll of unemployment and underemployment.
TONY ARNOLD, BYLINE: Ask Bill Gould what he thinks of waiting tables, and he'll give it to you straight. It just might have a dose of sugar coating, though.
BILL GOULD: Even though this is probably the lowest point I've been at in my life – in my life – I'm still optimistic.
ARNOLD: The guy can't be deterred. He owned his own graphic arts shop for 20 years, until technology made his business model obsolete. So he jumped around from one failing printing company to another until 2009 when there wasn't anywhere else to go. After a year and a half of looking for jobs, Gould now works three part-time jobs to make less than half of what he was earning when things were going well.
GOULD: It's a demanding profession on the body. I can still do it. I can still do it very well, except I'm tired. I'm very tired.
ARNOLD: Gould's a 51-year-old single dad. And his 70-hour work week is a grueling one. His daughter is a high school senior looking at colleges, which means tuition costs are coming. And without consistent work, he's nervous about his mortgage each month.
GOULD: Am I sleeping well? Occasionally I get a good night's sleep.
ARNOLD: Looking for a job is on Gould's mind so much he even seems to treat this radio interview much as he would a job interview.
GOULD: I know that I'm a successful sales person.
ARNOLD: Adapting to new technology.
GOULD: AV and IT work.
ARNOLD: And being a people person.
GOULD: I was always a natural networker.
ARNOLD: And it's that last one, networking, that he says is the most critical for finding a job. Something his career counselor, Linda Wolfe, has also emphasized. But Gould complains that networking these days means dealing with a younger crowd, who seem to treat networking events less like a business meeting, and more like a pub crawl. Wolfe, the counselor, says someone like Gould who's older is going to have a harder go of it finding new work.
LINDA WOLFE: Especially with the 50-plus crowd, they find themselves six, seven, eight years away from retirement or Social Security or Medicare, and they're screwed.
ARNOLD: She says, of the hundreds of clients her firm deals with, the longer someone is unemployed, the more severe the side effects. She's seen depression, families break up, homes lost. Wolfe says the long-term unemployed and underemployed have it the hardest.
WOLFE: The longer you're unemployed – and this is tragic to have to say – the longer you're unemployed, the less marketable you are.
ARNOLD: She says she frequently talks to clients about identity – about what kind of work they even want to be doing. That's something Cari O'Brien is working out herself. She was laid off from her job nearly a year ago.
CARI O'BRIEN: I was working at a real estate company, so really, the shocking part is that I had my job as long as I did, I suppose. But it was still a shock.
ARNOLD: That shock turned into something else – since her lay off came just a few weeks after she returned from maternity leave.
O'BRIEN: I was angry at first. I mean, who lays off someone fresh off maternity leave.
ARNOLD: Her emotions eventually went from anger to acceptance, to the point now that she's found the brighter side to unemployment. She and her husband are now saving the money they would be spending on child care. And she gets more time to be with the kids. All things she's excited about. Still, O'Brien says, mentally she wants to be back in the work force.
O'BRIEN: I do miss being out there and feeling productive and having that adult interaction and a sense of accomplishment. Not to say that staying at home doesn't provide those things for me, but a nice balance is what I miss.
ARNOLD: And one year out, O'Brien says she's still looking for that perfect job. So does Bill Gould – working his three. And they both say they're trying to keep their chins up – while keeping their eyes open – for any new opportunities.
For NPR News, I'm Tony Arnold in Chicago.
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