Unemployed Rely More On Family Than Government

fromKUNC

A Kaiser Family Foundation and NPR survey shows that many people enduring long-term joblessness have been relying more heavily on friends and family than government or other safety net services to get by. Many surveyed also say that, so far, the federal government's efforts to boost the economy and job market have done more harm than good.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Now, a recent NPR Kaiser Family Foundation survey of the long-term unemployed and underemployed. It found little trust in the government's ability to both help the economy and help them. And as Kirk Siegler of member station KUNC reports, that means many jobless Americans are turning to friends and to family instead.

KIRK SIEGLER, BYLINE: Doug Decounter(ph) lives in a modest two story house in this quiet cul-de-sac northwest of Denver. It's where he and his dog Kiska(ph), a prolific barker, have spent most afternoons for the past three years. In the fall of 2008 when the housing market crashed, Decounter was laid off from his job of 30 years. He worked for a local mortgage survey company.

DOUG DECOUNTER: I'm Midwestern and so I internalize stress.

SIEGLER: But at 60 years old with a degree in anthropology and most of his experience as a surveyor, Decounter struggled, competing for scarce jobs. He resorted to one a few hours a week stocking jewelry at a Target. Now, he's working part time for his daughter.

DECOUNTER: As far as looking for more work, I really have given up.

SIEGLER: Decounter says there still aren't that many opportunities out there. Since his unemployment benefits ran out, he and his wife have been relying mostly on her salary, and every day he's losing faith in Congress's ability to help people like him.

DECOUNTER: Right now, there has not been any jobs bills passed by the Republican Congress. The Senate isn't doing anything with the Democrats. They're just all sitting on their hands just like they're waiting for the next shoe to drop or the next election to get over.

SIEGLER: This lack of trust in government was expressed by many who took part in the NPR Kaiser survey. In fact, more said they thought the government's efforts to deal with the economy actually hurt their families rather than helped them.

ROBERT MCGOWAN: They're looking for a more directed effort. If you looked at the Roosevelt administration, you had the Civilian Conservation Corps. The Clinton administration, you had AmeriCorps.

SIEGLER: Economics professor Bob McGowan at the University of Denver says long term joblessness tends to lead to a loss of faith in government. That's typical of most economic downturns, but what's new this go-round, he says, is the finding that a majority of people seem to be turning to friends and family for help rather than government safety net programs.

MCGOWAN: Obviously, there's more reliability there. I think there's a huge distrust that Congress and the president can really come together and solve the problem.

JOSH WEBB: Without my mom, I would hate to even think where I'd be.

SIEGLER: Josh Webb is 35 and a single dad. He's especially relied on his mom for the past week to watch his daughter. He's been commuting 60 miles each way from his home north of Denver to a casino in the mountains. He's working the graveyard shift installing a carpet. It's the first job he's gotten in months, but it's temporary.

WEBB: I don't like depending on the government for anything, but there's been times when it's gotten bad where you think about it, you know.

SIEGLER: Webb says he believes in personal responsibility, however, he says he would support some government-funded job training or placement programs.

Back in Doug Decounter's kitchen, Kiska gets a treat in hopes she'll stop barking. Decounter later says he, too, would like to see the government focus on retraining people like him.

DECOUNTER: Especially if I could afford it and not feel like I'm investing my future into it because to guarantee the survey business getting hot again where I'd get hired back anywhere, you know, you're just not sure.

SIEGLER: Decounter considered one retraining program that would have required him to go back to school and fork over about $30,000, an out-of-pocket gamble that he says wouldn't be worth it at his age, let alone affordable.

For NPR News, I'm Kirk Siegler in Denver.

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