Working It: Struggling Through A Layoff

Most of us are or know someone who's had a hard time finding or keeping a job over the past few years. We continue our series of audio portraits of people in their daily lives, describing their experiences.

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

This month, we're presenting a series of audio portraits that we call Working It - personal stories about finding and keeping a job in a difficult economy. And sometimes losing a job, too. We're meeting people in Nashville, Tennessee, including Graham Gray. She's 44 years old, college educated, a married mother of two. Recently, she lost her job in computer-related sales for the second time in a year. Still, her days are full with the work moms do - school pickups and dental visits, soccer practice and bedtime stories.

GRAHAM GRAY: Oh, hi, honey. How are you? Lost my job in April and then actively looked throughout the summer and then found a job. And was really stoked about the job. It seemed like a great opportunity. You say bye-bye to Ayo(ph)?

AYO: Adios.

AMORY GRAY: Bye, Aunt Marie.

GRAY: And it was a really good feeling to have this job when our washing machine just died and we were able to go and get a new washing machine and breathe easy about it because we'll be fine. OK. You ready? Can you undo your belt?

GRAY: (unintelligible) breakfast?

GRAY: I am sure.

GRAY: Are you sure?

GRAY: I'm really sure.

GRAY: Are you sure?

GRAY: I'm sure. Thirty-five days later, I was let go. I don't know. Some people even said, gosh, did you even know where the coffeemaker was then? You know, it was abrupt. And like I said, I'm still stunned. And now we're not fine. We're not.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Welcome to the Tennessee Employment Security Information and Payment System.

GRAY: Unemployment checks certainly aren't a lot but beats poke in the eye.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Spanish spoken).

GRAY: So, when I lost my job in April, I did have insurance. That was taken care of by the company for the two months. When that two months was up, there's a thing called COBRA that kicks in. And unless you've seen how astronomical those prices can be, there's just absolutely no way.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Amory Gray - he's ready to go.

GRAY: OK. (unintelligible). So, let me just show you my COBRA bill that came, the billing notice. For health insurance for me and my children, dental and vision: $2,032.69 for the month. And I don't have that money monthly. Not many of us do. How are you feeling, Cal? OK. Calvin had got pneumonia a couple of years ago when we were sort of in this boat and in between jobs and we had cruddy out-of-pocket insurance that only covered X amount. He was 5 years old. He's now 9. I think I just stopped paying those bills. OK. So, sweetie, need to go in, get nice clean jammies on. Brush your teeth and then we'll hop into beddie-bye and we'll get a book, OK? When I was in about second or third grade, my dad lost his job, and I remember being fearful that, wow, a mom or dad could lose their job just like that. Can you get Amory jammies and you got to brush your teeth too. I definitely want to protect my sons from that feeling of insecurity that I had as a child. I don't even want them for one moment to feel one bit of angst over the fact that mom or dad needs to find a job so that we can have health insurance. They're too little. They don't need to know about health insurance.

CAL GRAY: Can I read "Tuna" tonight?

GRAY: Yeah, well, let me read - do you want me to read that one first?

GRAY: Yes.

GRAY: OK. All right. So, that is cat got your nose. And my older son, I just told him that, said, you know, this job that I just took might not have been a very good fit for mommy. And I'll be close by if something, if I'm needed during the school day and I can get to you a lot quicker. And he sits well with that. He says, OK, mommy, well, I hope you find another job that makes you really happy. Me, too.

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MARTIN: That's Graham Gray of Nashville, Tennessee. Her story was produced by Kim Green, and you can hear more stories in our Working It series at npr.org.

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MARTIN: And you're listening to WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News.

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